Why isn't low-fat dairy more beneficial for weight loss compared to full-fat dairy products?

There are many types of milk products on the supermarket shelf so, which one is the healthier choice?

As an Accredited Dietitian for more than 30 years, I have followed the logical doctrine that:

  • Full fat milk and other dairy products such as yoghurts and cheese, has more energy than low fat dairy and therefore, low fat dairy is recommended for weight loss; and,
  • Full fat dairy products have more saturated fats than their low fat equivalent products. Saturated fats are damaging to our heart and blood vessels and therefore low fat is better for heart health than full fat products.

But the evidence that is emerging from many research studies is consistently disputing the notion that eating full fat dairy products is worse for your health or your waistline than low fat – “the dairy paradoxical!”

Researches give the following reasons for this paradoxical:

  • Although full-fat dairy has more energy than low fat, the full fat food is more filling resulting in a reduced inclination to eat other unhealthy alternative options, such as highly processed commercial foods.
  • Although full fat dairy has more saturated fats than low fat dairy, not all saturated fats are equal. The saturated fats in full fat dairy products don’t have the negative affect on the arteries and the heart as do the saturated fats found in other foods such as fatty meats and commercial foods.

It is still important to note that consuming more energy than your body requires, whether it is with full fat dairy foods or low fat dairy foods, would result in weight gain, and obesity is strongly associated with heart disease.

Healthy eating is not just about energy control, but a balanced food intake of important nutrients found in a variety of foods. But how these nutrients, including saturated fats affect our bodies is very complex. Nutrients do not work in isolation, but are part of a matrix where they are influenced by other components of foods and work in different ways in different individuals. The nutrients in dairy products are also influenced by the diet of the cow.

Taking into account the variety and complexity of how nutrients work in our bodies, it is important to not oversimplify the full fat and low fat dairy debate. The best food depends on individual requirements and health goals. The whole diet needs to be taken into account and not just nutrients in isolation. What is clear is that more research is required to help untangle the “diary paradoxical debate”.

Accredited Dietitian Nutritionists (APDs) are university trained to interpret these scientific studies and provide practical and personal nutritional advice by taking into account the whole diet and not just specific nutrients in isolation.

Reputable organisations such as the Heart Foundation keep abreast of breaking evidence based research in this complex field and formulate health policies accordingly.

“Knowledge is learning without a limit.”
― Lailah Gifty Akita

Author: Maya McColm is an Accredited Dietitian Nutritionist and CEO of NERO (Nutrition Education Resources Online.

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