Studies show it’s OK to eat whole milk dairy foods

Studies have observed that eating milk, cheese and yogurt in full-fat as well as low-fat forms can be beneficial.

Yep, the science of nutrition can be frustrating, when the answers we get from experts are not as easy as “Eat this, not that.” In fact, as we learn more about the complexities of the food we ingest, advice on what to eat is more apt to be, “Well … it depends.”

Case in point: Surprising new research shows no health detriment and possibly some health benefits in full-fat as well as low-fat milk, cheese and yogurt.

Granted, the recent webinar that reviewed these findings was sponsored by farming families who belong to the National Dairy Council. Still, the speakers were professionals who know their science.

Registered dietitian nutritionist Matt Pikosky, PhD, reminded us that we live in a largely inflexible world that wants straight “yes or no” answers. Yet sometimes good science says we can eat this and that ... and still maintain optimal health. That seems to be what’s emerging in the case of dairy foods.

Numerous research studies over the past decade have led to our current guidelines that no more than 20 to 35 percent of our day’s total calories should come from fat. And one way to avoid excessive fat (especially saturated fat) is to choose low-fat dairy foods such as cheese, milk and yogurt. This is still true, says Pikosky.

However many studies have observed that the consumption of milk, cheese and yogurt — full-fat as well as low-fat — is associated with a higher quality diet as well as lower blood pressure and a reduced risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

What gives? Well, it depends. We already know, for example, that all saturated fat — what is generally thought of as the “bad” fat — is not all bad. And the fat in dairy food is more unique and complex than we once thought.

Before we head out the door for an ice cream sundae, though, here are what these experts advise:

— Low-fat and fat-free dairy foods are still good for us. They contain all the nutrients of whole milk products with less fat (especially saturated fat) and fewer calories.

— Whole milk, yogurt or cheese are OK choices if we can still keep our daily calories in check. Weight gain from any type of excess calories, remember, increases our risk for a multitude of chronic diseases including heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

— Three servings of dairy food per day can supply a plethora of essential nutrients that is not as easy to get from other sources. One serving is equal to 1 cup of milk, 1 ounce of cheese or 6 ounces of yogurt.

— We are still smart to avoid excess amounts of saturated fat. This category of fats should take up no more than 10 percent of all our daily calories. But, we can still include special high fat indulgences on occasion if we don’t go overboard.

— Yogurt and cheese tend to be “lactose friendly” for those who get stomach upsets from drinking milk. Products like Lactaid — which contain enzymes that digest the natural sugar in milk — are also good choices.

— How flexible should we be when it comes to high-fat dairy foods? Well, it depends.

Quinn is an author, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator affiliated with Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula in California. She may be contacted at


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