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Is Low-Fat Dairy Superior to Full-Fat?

Low-fat dairy is recommended in dietary guidelines over natural, full-fat dairy, but is this recommendation actually justified by evidence? Or is it simply outdated?

Key Findings:

In the context of a healthy diet, (replete in nutrients) full-fat dairy is associated with better heart disease and some cancer outcomes that low-fat

Full-fat dairy may be preferable for body-composition than low-fat

Overall, there is little difference in major health outcomes whether using low-fat or full-fat dairy and improved nutrient provision from full-fat suggests that it is likely to be a better addition to the diet than low-fat varieties of dairy foods

Full-fat dairy products are contributors to increased saturated fat in the diet. Because of the purported (but now mostly discredited) relationship between saturated fat and mortality, full-fat dairy has typically been advised against, while low-fat has been recommended in dietary guidelines for health. However, this guideline stands in contrast to the evidence.

Previously, the evidence had suggested that full-fat dairy promotes better outcomes for both death and disease than low-fat dairy and this is especially true when we look at the context of diet quality overall. For example, full-fat dairy in combination with a diet high in fruit and vegetables exerts a protective effect against coronary artery disease (an effect not seen with low-fat dairy),1 and colorectal cancer.2 In another study and in contrast to the author’s hypothesis, it was discovered that lower-fat varieties of milk products (and not dairy fat) were associated with weight gain in an investigation of dairy consumption in close to 13,000 children.3 A review of the literature by Kratz and colleagues concluded that the recommendation to consume low-fat dairy foods is in contrast to the observational evidence of a reduced cardiometabolic risk.4

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