The USDA suggests that fat-free or low-fat dairy (1%) are part of a healthy eating pattern, along with grains, fruits, proteins, and vegetables, reasoning that full-fat dairy and whole milk aren't considered healthy. "Fat-free and low-fat dairy products provide the same nutrients but less fat (and thus, fewer calories) than higher fat options, such as 2% and whole milk and regular cheese," the organization explains. Pretty self-explanatory, right? Low-fat means less fat. Right. Got it. But according to a new study, low-fat milk isn't actually the better option.
The study, published in the journal Circulation, analyzed the blood of 3333 adults enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study of Health Professionals Follow-up Study, taken over about 15 years. What they found was that people who had higher levels of three different byproducts of full-fat dairy had, on average, a 46% lower risk of getting diabetes during the study period than those with lower levels.
"I think these findings, together with those from other studies, do call for a change in the policy of recommending only low-fat dairy products," explains Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, who headlined the study. "There is no prospective human evidence that people who eat low-fat dairy do better than people who eat whole-fat dairy."
The European Journal of Nutrition also found that high-fat dairy intake was inversely associated with measures of obesity. Brian Quebbemann, a bariatric surgeon with the Chapman Medical Center in California and president of The N.E.W. Program, says that this may be because fat is more satiating so it fills you up, helping to prevent overeating. Fat also slows the release of sugar into the bloodstream, and less circulating insulin means less risk for the development of insulin resistance and diabetes.
If you're worried about what the increased fat intake is doing to your arteries, know that there actually isn't so much cause for concern. A 2014 review found that cheese and yogurt don't contribute to the development of coronary artery disease, presumably because dairy is made of 400 unique types of fatty acids, some of which are believed to have anti-inflammatory effects on the body, U.S. News reports.