Whole Milk

Data Check: Whole-Fat or Low-Fat Milk?

Research, nutrition, and politics. It’s a formula for seemingly unending debates. Now, a recent analysis of data on whole-fat and low-fat milk is adding fuel to the fire. Even before this, dairy farmers were agitating to end the ban on whole-fat milk in schools. Now, this new data adds one more reason to suspect that dietary guidance favoring low-fat dairy stands on shaky ground.

Less Obesity in Kids Who Drink Whole Milk

This latest study was a systematic review and meta-analysis of all the research to date on the relationship between milk fat and obesity. In short, the researchers found a lower risk of overweight or obesity for kids who drink whole-fat milk. The difference amounted to a 39% lower risk. Nothing to dismiss lightly.

Of course, this was all observational research. It doesn’t prove that drinking whole-fat dairy will prevent obesity. It merely gives us good reason to question the recommendations for low-fat milk to prevent obesity. There’s certainly no empiric evidence for that. And yet, that’s precisely what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends.

But What About Saturated Fat?

Another rationale for recommending low-fat milk is to avoid some of the saturated fats in dairy products. However, more and more data are suggesting that dairy fat is not a big risk for heart disease. In fact, a number of studies have found a lower risk of heart disease in people who consume more dairy fat.

At the end of the day, it looks like we should be worrying about other things. All of this data is observational. So we can’t prove that whole milk is better. But we certainly can’t prove that it’s a problem, either. The best advice is to drink what you like. It will nourish you.

Click here to read the study and here to read further reporting.

Whole Milk, photograph © Liz Mochrie / flickr

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January 4, 2020

3 Responses to “Data Check: Whole-Fat or Low-Fat Milk?”

  1. January 05, 2020 at 3:50 am, Mary-Jo said:

    2% milk in schools is still a good option, imo, especially considering the increase in cheese use and consumption in the past 20 years, across the general population and in school meals. I don’t think 2% milk does harm to our children, even children who need to gain weight, given that there’s only about 25 kcal difference between whole and 2% milk. This study, while interesting, is observational and should not be taken as a basis to lead schools to change policy to switch to whole milk, thinking it will help decrease childhood obesity. There could be many reasons why children who drink whole milk are not obese. More informative studies, as the study points out, are needed. The most significant point you’ve made here is it looks like we should be worrying about other things.

  2. January 12, 2020 at 6:26 pm, Michael said:

    What about the bigger question… Do we even need to have dairy food in our diet? Plenty of ethnic cultures around the world have traditionally never had dairy food in their diet and haven’t suffered because of this. Yet ‘dairy’ is routinely mandated as a necessary ‘food group’ for everyone. Even if we put aside the idea that drinking the milk of another species is a bit ‘yucky’, are we ready to drop diary food as a mandatory part of our diets?

  3. January 13, 2020 at 4:35 am, Ted said:

    Thanks, Michael. Some people like dairy foods. Fine. Others can’t bear them. That’s fine too. One size dietary guidance does not fit all. Never will.