Evolving Science: Dairy Fat Healthier Than We Thought

When it comes to whole-fat milk, the word “wholesome” may not be the first thing that comes to mind. For years, general diet advice has been to eat low-fat foods. But nutrition is an evolving science, and when it comes to whole fat, the science shows that not all fat is created equal – or affects your body the same way. So if you love a full-fat cheese or a flat white latte, know that it can be a part of a healthy eating pattern. Let’s explore more. 


MyPlate Supports Dairy Foods

Healthy eating patterns, like MyPlate, focus on foods that keep you healthy now and set you up for future success. MyPlate incorporates the five food groups – dairy, fruits, vegetables, grains and protein – that are essential for good health. Building your plate with these components ensures that you get the vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, fats and fiber you need each day. 


MyPlate, as part of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), recognizes dairy as a key part of the diet and encourages choosing fat-free and low-fat dairy products. However, that may look different in the future, because the science is starting to show that dairy fat doesn’t behave like other fats and may even do your body good. 


Emerging Evidence Suggest Positive Effects of Whole Fat Dairy

Whole-fat dairy has previously been excluded from healthy eating pattern recommendations because of its saturated fat. Dietary recommendations, including those in the DGA, recommend limiting saturated fat intake due to its associations with heart disease and stroke risk. But recent research shows that that association isn’t so simple, and saturated fat in dairy may not cause heart disease – it may even have some protective benefits. Eating milk, cheese and yogurt, regardless of fat level, may also go beyond just protecting your heart, offering a lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. 


Dairy’s Nutrient Package Is Complex

We often tout milk’s 13 essential nutrients, but it also offers a variety of fatty acids; milk fat is made up of over 400 different fats and how they affect your body adds to the complexity of our favorite dairy foods. Plus, other nutrients found in dairy – such as vitamins, minerals and bioactive compounds – can help you meet your body’s various nutrient needs and reduce your risk for heart disease.


Recent Recommendations Offer More Flexibility for Fat Content

As we continue to learn more about dairy fats, many health and wellness organizations allow for more choice when it comes to whole-fat dairy foods. Organizations embracing fat flexibility for dairy foods include the Joslin Diabetes Center, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and National Heart Foundation of Australia. 


Relaxing restrictive recommendations means more choice and could be motivation for people to meet their daily suggested servings. The quality of the foods making up healthy eating patterns is what matters most. Thus, nutrient-rich whole milk, regular cheese and whole-milk yogurt can be part of calorie-balanced healthy eating patterns. 


Learn more about the health benefits and science of dairy foods

By Katie McKee, MCN, RDN, LD

Katie has always loved teaching others about the power of nutrition. She has a background in journalism as a reporter, writer and editor and has been part of the Dairy MAX team since 2015. When she's not working, Katie enjoys cooking and spending time with her young son and family. Learn more about Katie

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