By Kim Martin, RD
The evidence is there. Throw out your low fat or, even worse, fat free milk! Personally, this is music to my ears. Who among us actually enjoys the taste of the low-fat or fat-free milk??
Full fat dairy is an incredibly nutrient-rich food source. It contains the following:
Vitamin B12: Beneficial in blood health and in formation of nerve cells
Vitamin A: Beneficial for eyesight and growth (especially in children)
Riboflavin: Beneficial in energy metabolism and cell functioning.
Potassium: Beneficial in blood pressure control and nerve impulse transmission.
Calcium: Essential for strong bones and teeth, important in muscle and nerve functioning, and may assist in blood pressure control.
Magnesium: Important component of bone structure and essential in energy transfer around the body.
Zinc: Aids wound healing; and is essential for growth and development in bones, the brain and many other parts of the body.
Phosphorous: part of the mineral structure in bones and teeth, and works with B vitamins in energy metabolism.
Protein: Beneficial for growth and development as well as repair to damaged body tissues. Protein also forms part of many enzymes and blood components, and is essential for maintaining muscles.1
Healthy fats: Many are bioactive and can have powerful effects on health.2 Higher amounts of Omega 3 fatty acids and Conjugated Linoleic Acid are found in milk from pasture-raised, grass-fed cows.3,4
Some of these nutrients get lost when you take away the natural fat content, and sugar is often added to disguise the tasteless nature of low fat dairy! Based on this, is it really any wonder why we recommend full fat dairy?
The evidence shows that full cream dairy may be beneficial in heart disease, diabetes and even weight management! One need not fear the saturated fat content when it is part of a healthy diet (which is a topic for another day – but just trust me!).
Here are 4 fast facts about the benefits of full cream dairy:
1. Improved heart health. The saturated fat content of milk should not be a concern as there is no link between it and heart disease (for the majority of individuals at least).5,6 Studies have also shown that LDL cholesterol does not change significantly when whole fat dairy consumption is increased.7 The research shows that dairy has varying effects on heart health in different countries, probably due to how the cows are raised and fed. A major study in the U.S. showed increased risk for heart disease with dairy fat, whilst many other studies show protective effects of dairy intake on both heart disease and stroke.8,9 There is also evidence of lowered blood pressure with dairy consumption. 10 In countries where cows are mostly grass-fed, full-fat dairy consumption is associated with significantly decreased risk of heart disease and stroke; as high as 69% in Australia! 11,12,13. This beneficial effect may be related to the high vitamin K2 content of grass-fed dairy.
2. No increase in mortality risk. A meta-analysis of 26 studies showed that high intakes of full fat milk, cheese, yoghurt and butter are not associated with an increased risk of all-cause (i.e. heart disease, stroke, cancer etc) mortality compared with low intakes.14
3. Decreased risk of diabetes. A meta-analysis of 17 studies showed that the more dairy one consumed – the lower the risk of type 2 diabetes (up to a point). 15 More recent data from Malmö Diet and Cancer cohort (including 26 930 individuals aged 45-74 years, of which 60% were women) also showed that high intakes of high-fat dairy products was associated with lower incidence of type 2 diabetes. Interestingly, specifically cream and high-fat fermented milk intakes were inversely associated with risk of type 2 diabetes, meaning the more that was consumed – the lower the risk. 16
4. More weight loss. Increasing your daily calcium intake to about 1200 – 1300mg/day* is associated with improved body composition (i.e. less fat, more lean muscle).17 Also, a dietary pattern that is higher in dairy and calcium is shown to improve weight loss and appetite control more than a low dairy diet, when total energy intake is restricted for overweight or obese individuals.18 In a review of 16 studies, 11 showed reduced obesity in individuals consuming full-fat dairy, while none found such an effect for low-fat dairy.19
*please note it is always advisable to get calcium from food sources primarily – supplementation should not be necessary!
Take Home Message
If you are lactose-intolerant, avoid dairy. Other than that, there appears to be no compelling evidence to suggest you should avoid it, and much showing benefit in including dairy. Avoid low-fat and fat-free products and enjoy full cream dairy as part of your healthy diet.
1. Mahan KL, Escott-Stump S. Krause’s food & Nutrition therapy. 13th ed. St. Louis: Missouri; 2012.
2. Månsson L. Fatty acids in bovine milk fat. Food Nutr Res. 2008;52:1-7.
3. Hebeisen DF, Hoeflin F, Reusch HP, Junker E, Lauterburg BH. Increased concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids in milk and platelet rich plasma of grass-fed cows. Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 1993;63(3):229-233.
4. Dhiman TR, Anand GR, Satter LD, Pariza MW. Conjugated linoleic acid content of milk from cows fed different diets. J Dairy Sci. 1999 Oct;82(10):2146-56.
5. Siri-Tarino PW, Sun Q, Hu FB, Krauss RM. Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Jan.
6. Chowdhury R, Warnakula S, Kunutsor S, Crowe F, Ward HA, Johnson L, Franco OH, Butterworth AS, Forouhi NG, Thompson SG, Khaw K, Mozaffarian D, Danesh J, Di Angelantonio E. Association of Dietary, Circulating, and Supplement Fatty Acids With Coronary Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Ann Intern Med. 2014 Mar 18;160(6):398-406.
7. Benatar JR, Sidhu K, Steward RAH. Effects of high and low fat dairy food on cardio-metabolic risk factors: a meta-analysis of randomized studies. PLoS One. 2013 Oct 11;8(10):e7648.
8. Sun Q, Ma J, Campos H, Hu FB. Plasma and erythrocyte biomarkers of dairy fat intake and risk of ischemic heart disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Oct; 86(4):929-937.
9. Hu FB, Stampfer MJ, Manson JE, Ascherio A, Colditz GA, Speizer FE. Hennekens CH, Willet WC. Dietary saturated fats and their food sources in relation to the risk of coronary heart disease in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Dec; 70(6):1001-1008.
10. Park KM, Cifelli CJ. Dairy and blood pressure. Nutr Rev. 2013 Mar; 71(3):149-157.
11. Warensjö E, Smedman A, Stegmayr B, Hallmans G, Weinehall L, Vessby B, Johansson I. Stroke and plasma markers of milk fat intake – a prospective nested case-control study. Nutr J. 2009;8(21):1-7.
12. Bonthuis M, Hughes MC, Ibiebele TI, Green AC, van der Pols JC. Dairy consumption and patterns of mortality of Australian adults. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2010 Jun;64(6):569-77.
13. Smit LA, Baylin A, Campos H. Conjugated linoleic acid in adipose tissue and risk of myocardial infarction. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Jul;92(1):34-40.
14. O’Sullivan TA, Hafekost K, Mitrou F, Lawrence D. Food sources of saturated fat and the association with mortality: a meta-analysis. Am J Public Health. 2013 Sep;103(9):e31-42.
15. Aune D, Norat T, Romundstad P, Vatten LJ. Dairy products and the risk of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of cohort studies. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 Oct;98(4):1066-1083.
16. Ericson U, Hellstrand S, Brunkwall L, Sonestedt E, Wallstrom P, Gullberg B, Wirfalt E, Orho-Melander O. Food sources of fat may clarify the earlier inconsistent role of dietary fat intake for incidence of type 2 diabetes. In Press 2014.
17. De Oliveira Freitas DM, Stampini Duarte Martino H, Machado Rocha Ribeiro S, de C. Goncalves Alfenas R. Calcium ingestion and obesity control. Nutr Hosp. 2012:27(5):1758-1771.
18. Wagner Jones K, Eller LK, Parnell JA, Doyle-Baker PK, Edwards AL, Reimer RA. Effect of a dairy and calcium rich diet on weight loss and appetite during energy restriction in overweight and obese adults: a randomized trial. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013 April;67(4):371-376.
19. Kratz M, Baars T, Guyenet S. The relationship between high-fat dairy consumption and obesity, cardiovascular, and metabolic disease. Eur J Nutr. 2013 Feb;52(1):1-24.