Health & Fitness

Whole milk appears to actually be better for you than fat-free

For anyone who has been faithfully ordering a skinny latte, you might feel a bit betrayed by what I am about to write. Our intention was never to mislead. We just got ahead of the research. The demonization of fat began about 40 years ago. Fingers were pointed at fat being the cause of heart disease and the rush to de-fat our diets took over. And maybe it went too far. Today we are diving into the latest on milk; should it always be fat free?


There is a growing body of positive research of the impact of full fat milk on a number of health markers. A study from 2016 in Epidemiology and Prevention reviewed data on 3,333 adults in the Nurses’ health study. These researchers looked at subjects’ plasma levels of fatty acids associated with dairy intake. They found that higher dairy fatty acid concentrations in plasma were associated with a lower incidence of diabetes.

And what about blood lipids? A small (17 subjects) randomized, controlled clinical trial, published December 2017 in The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, measured HDL, LDL, insulin and glucose after giving subject fat free or whole milk. They found that a daily intake of 17 ounces of whole milk for three weeks did not increase LDL cholesterol. And although small, there was a significant increase in plasma levels of good HDL cholesterol with whole milk. There was no difference in glucose or insulin levels between the fat free and whole milk test periods.

There is a big difference in calories. There are 80 calories in 8 ounces of fat-free milk vs. 150 in a glass of whole. Yet some studies have shown a lower risk of being overweight in people who drink whole milk.

So for everyone who has told me that fat-free milk tastes like water, go ahead and enjoy whole milk in your coffee or cereal. And if you enjoy low-fat dairy there is no recommendation to change.

Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @sheahrarback.