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Skip the Skim: New Study Says Full-Fat Dairy Could Fight Diabetes & Obesity

By , Melissa Rudy, Health & Fitness Journalist
You already know that milk does a body good—it's an essential source of vitamins, minerals and proteins. And the general consensus has been that skim or low-fat dairy is a better choice than full-fat—even the USDA's Dietary Guidelines recommend fat-free milk. But some new research suggests skipping the skim can be beneficial. So if you've been tolerating the watered-down version for the sake of your waistline, this could be the full-fat green light you’ve been waiting for.
In one study led by Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, more than three thousand milk drinkers had their blood analyzed. The ones who drank full-fat milk were 46 percent less likely to develop diabetes during the 15-year study period.

Although the reason behind the reduced risk isn't clear, it could be that full-fat dairy is better at breaking down sugars and keeping insulin and glucose in check. Plus, some fermented high-fat dairy foods (such as yogurt and cheese) could trigger gut microbes to more efficiently manage the body's response to insulin.
According to Mozaffarian, "there is no prospective human evidence that people who eat low-fat dairy do better than people who eat whole-fat dairy."
For decades, we've believed that skim milk is a wise choice for those trying to lose weight, but that assumption may have turned sour. Another study found that women who chose the higher-fat dairy products were actually eight percent less susceptible to being overweight or obese. This could be due to the fact that people who drink skim milk are more likely to seek out carbs, calories and sugar from other food sources, which can ultimately lead to weight gain. Full-fat dairy consumers may feel more satisfied and less likely to overindulge in other areas.
"We really need to stop making recommendations about food based on theories about one nutrient. It’s crucial at this time to understand that it’s about food as a whole, and not about single nutrients," Mozaffarian concludes.
Although the USDA's guidelines probably won't be changing anytime soon, these new findings open up the door to more research into full-fat dairy benefits. In the meantime, Mozaffarian says it's best to consume a variety of dairy, rather than automatically avoiding all full-fat products.
What do you think of this new research? Do you drink skim milk, full-fat milk or a dairy-free milk alternative? Discover more ways to boost calcium intake.

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I'm one of those people who have had skim all their life. Acc to my Mom they put me on skim with baby milk formula cause I was a very fat baby. All my life it's been with me! Interesting research Report
My siblings who grew up drinking whole fat milk all had or still have weight problems. My kids eat full fat or 2% cheese or lite greek yogurt (because it has less sugar) but they have never drank cow milk. None of them have weight issues but I don't think that has anything to do with dairy. Instead, I would say it is because they eat healthy unprocessed whole foods daily in moderation. I don't think any one thing or food group can cause weight problems. Scientifically speaking, I don't think any of these studies are accurate because there are too many variables. Report
follow elimination diet ...get good fats...not no fat low fat or fat more sugar free either...just limit them all Y O U R S E L F.. Report
I don't eat or drink much dairy because it does not agree with my stomach. But I found that I can eat yogurt and cheese. I had switched to low-fat yogurt and found that I would be hungry again shortly after eating. Switching back to full fat yogurt has helped me stay satiated longer. And since I don't eat much of it to begin with, I am only adding another 50 calories (at most) which I can balance with fruit and veggies to make my overall meal still low calorie. Report
A few years ago I read that the full-fat milk and dairy helped lose weight and/or body fat because the dairy fat from very healthy cattle (grass fed, no hormones no antibiotics etc) was a rich source of conjugated-linoleic acid or CLA . Lots of links discuss this connection between full fat dairy and weight loss. This might be swatting at gnats, compared to the direction of the survey in this article, but certainly adds another reason why full fat dairy is better.

website: draxe dot com forward slash conjugated-linoleic-acid Report
What do I think of the new research? I think it's bogus! People who are already sick and overweight switch to skim milk at the advice of their doctors. Of course more people drinking whole milk are healthier! They haven't been told to switch over yet. That's why I have a problem with this. It's ridiculous! Report
There are many studies out there, and for several years, that tell us about not choosing low fat alternatives. They replace the fat they remove with sugar. I'm glad Sparks finally is reporting some of these studies. Report
When I think of our older generation, many of us were raised on whole milk and didn't have the weight problems of today's kids. I agree that it makes one more satisfied and less likely to seek other foods. Report
When I think of our older generation, many of us were raised on whole milk and didn't have the weight problems of today's kids. I agree that it makes one more satisfied and less likely to seek other foods. Report
I see people complaining about that SP should not post this study because it is only one study. The fact is that multiple studies have been showing this for YEARS!! Do your own research--search on something like "scientific studies showing benefits of full fat dairy" or "studies recommending full fat dairy" and you will see a number of scientific studies. Just keeping scrolling... Or, just go to your favorite scientific nutrition journal or health journal site and do a search on "dairy fat". If you have never gone to such a site, not sure how you can make an informed decision without reading any studies yourself. Report
so when i check my food tracker on sp, should i change all the recommended skim milk to full fat?? i usually drink 2 percent myself. maybe i will try the full fat milk and just change up my calorie intake. Report
I grew up drinking skim milk (the blue kind, made from powder. Ugh!) Now, I drink low fat, but refuse to sacrifice the wonderful flavor of full fat yogurt and cheese. I just try to watch the portion size of these. Report
What is going on with SP? I'm getting sick of all these articles based on 1 study says....Or, even better 1 study suggests.... Perhaps SP needs to do an article on research methods to explain why we should not base decisions on 1 study! At least point out that this is based on 1 study and 1 study only! C'mon SP be responsible! Report
I feel like the causation isn't here. It could just as easily be that overweight or obese people drink skim milk instead of full fat because they are trying to lose weight and people who are already thin don't feel like they need to cut calories in their dairy products. Report
Wow! I don't even know what to think about this. Mind is officially blown. Report
I started using whole milk again when I kept my grandchildren since they need more good fats in their diets for brain development. I began making yogurt with what was left at the end of the week because I wanted to start each week with fresh. I was concerned that my cholesterol, which runs high, would be through the roof. Instead it was better than previously--still high but HDL higher and LDL lower. The greek type yogurt(Drained of some of its whey) is so rich that I need NO sugar and only fresh fruit to enjoy it. It also makes a great substitute for sour cream. Report
Very interesting. Although I realize that low fat milk has just has much protein has the silk milk, I was assuming that "soy" milk was healthier for weight loss. Report
Its weird because I grew u drinking 2% milk and have drank skim for most of my adult life and now when I have had to drink non skim milk it seems odd. Yet I can't stand reduced fat cheddar (about the only cheese I eat). Report
I drink non-fat milk, but I enjoy whole fat cottage cheese and ricotta cheese. I enjoy these for breakfast with fruit. I find that eating them, keeps me satified through the morning. I also believe the full-fat milk products help my skin. I'm down 76 lbs to date. Something is working right! Report
All I know is I haven't used Skim or low fat milk in ages, and now My new favorite thing is French vanilla Whole Milk Yogurt. While I use Sparkpeople to stay in calorie range, I use my own menus and eat butter, sugar, chocolate, whole milk and whole milk products; nothing artificial, nothing low or fat free (unless that way naturally).This is the first time in 40 years of dieting that I haven't been hungry and am losing weight faster than ever before. And that's with having Hypothyroidism! This article and others like it only reaffirm what I have already realized. Report
Personally, I hate milk, unless it is chocolate. When I drink or use it for cooking, though, it has to be whole milk. Reduced-fat & skim taste even more disgusting then regular milk, to me. As for other dairy products like cheese, yogurt, etc. It depends. Some cheese made with low-fat or skim milk is ok, others taste bad & don't melt right. I always get full fat yogurt because the low & no fat versions typically have extra junk added in to replace the flavor that is missing from getting rid of the fat & have a less creamy texture. If you aren't loading up your diet with overly fatty foods, drinking a cup of whole milk each day isn't going to harm you or put you over your fat limit for the day. I prefer quality over quantity - I'd rather eat or drink a little of something that tastes really good than have more of something that is mediocre or worse. Report
Interesting. But I think more data, not just one research outcome is needed before I make any changes. Report
Hmmm, very interesting. But, there will need to be a lot more study on the matter before I am willing to make the switch back to high-fat dairy. The big question for me is which came first? "Another study found that women who chose the higher-fat dairy products were actually eight percent less susceptible to being overweight or obese." Is that because of their body chemistry or because of their dairy choices? Will be watching this one for sure. Report
We don't drink much milk, although we use it in coffee and have it on cereal. I don't care for skim milk, but I have no problem with 1%, 2% or full fat versions. We love cheese, but I will use low-fat (never non-fat) only if the taste is good. Cabot makes a good low-fat cheddar. As long as single portions are eaten I am happy with my choices. Same goes for low-fat yogurt, ricotta and cottage cheese. I read the labels to see if the ingredients are beneficial and often use labels as a guide to what I decide to buy. Fewer ingredients are found in whole or natural foods, so I don't automatically exclude any of them based on fat content alone. What good is non-fat or low-fat anything if it tastes terrible?
I grew up on raw, unpasteurized whole milk and had the best bone density and teeth! Now I am 61 and I drink skim milk because it contains more calcium per ounce than whole milk. I have no problem with diabetes or obesity. So should everyone now go back to whole milk? Report
Full-fat dairy is a whole food and a large part of my diet. My low carb diet consists of a minimum of 50% healthy fats, a normal amount of protein and fewer carbs. Low Carb is not No Carb! I have been able to stay on it and keep the weight off for over 3 years and I have reversed Type 2 diabetes. I have lost over 35 lbs in the past year alone by cutting out breads and most other carbs and somewhat watching calories. I see carbs mostly as a way to get protein and fats to my mouth like bread, taco shells, burrito and "wrap" wraps, pizza crust. Many restaurants now serve low carb choices, lettuce wraps, etc. I have 1 or 2 small servings a day of whole-food carbs plus veggies. Water-based vegetables are good carbs (not potatoes, rice, corn, winter squash or carrots).

There always seems to be a theory where, somewhere down the road, we hear that it was wrong and we should actually be doing something else. I'm with the folks who say not to base your whole diet on one nutrient or one food. I base my decisions on my personal preferences and my own health, which is vastly different from every other person. I hear all these warnings about this food or that and it's later found to be false. I don't trust these articles one bit. Report
We drink whole fat raw milk. Love it. Report
the other thing I thought of last evening.... Was this study controlled in any way for how much fat these people rec'd from their regular diet? For example: I consume low fat dairy...but I also consume a lot of avocado, and use olive oil. Since my total fat intake is at a healthy level...would I benefit from higher fat dairy? I don't think this study addresses that!! Report
We could go around all day telling people what they "should" and "should not" eat, but ultimately, you've got to listen to your body and do what works for YOU. Studies like these are great for general knowledge, but using blanket statements about food is a slippery slope and can lead to "good food/bad food" mentality.

Purely from a personal perspective, I like my food un-messed-with... and that includes fat-free versions of dairy products. I don't eat much dairy, but when I do, give it to me whole and give it to me as naturally and unprocessed as possible. My body responds better to whole foods, and that works for me. Report
As a kid, I drank whole milk...lots of whole milk. I still can't bring myself to drink or use milk with lower fat content. While I am heavier than I would like, I am by no means obese. That's anecdotal evidence at best, but I have noticed that my friends who I grew up with, who avoided full-fat foods, have gained considerably more weight than me.

I should say I rarely consume any milk these days. Also, "LIFENPROGRESS" lactose intollerance is the norm for humans if looked at on a global scale. The ability to properly digest lactose is a fairly new adaptation for our species. Report
For weight loss, the bottom line is calorie management to stay within calorie goals. Whether you drink skim, 2% or full fat is 100 percent preference only. Personally, I like fat free milk because it makes excellent foam for my homemade lattes and mochas. The full fat milk falls pretty flat. Report
I have never liked skim milk. I will tolerate in my coffee if I go visit someone who doesn't have any creamer or any other milk. I have always drank 1% and I have not had any problems with weight loss because of it. Now I do believe you should cut out major amounts of dairy in any form because too much can be a hindrance I believe with your weight loss goals. I don't think that a little bit of milk on your cereal is going to harm you. I have been doing it for years. However, I don't eat cheese or other dairy products unless it's yogurt that does not have high glucose corn syrup in it. Report
While I applaud the author's attempt to cite sources, it would have been much better to cite the original publication for the study and not a Time article about the study. For those interested, the abstract can be found at

I have to say that I'm glad that the Time article was linked, however, since it included the full wording which the author here skipped, explaining in more detail just what should have been meant by "full-fat dairy is better at breaking down sugars". My thought at seeing that sentence in this article was complete confusion at just how or when anyone came up with the idea that either fat or dairy was responsible for breaking down sugars...

The click-bait, misleading article title aside, I am glad that at least one very important concept was included:

"We really need to stop making recommendations about food based on theories about one nutrient. It’s crucial at this time to understand that it’s about food as a whole, and not about single nutrients," Mozaffarian concludes.

THIS. THIS needs to be repeated over and over again. Report
I choose to drink skim milk 1) I have high LDL so must keep to a low fat diet and 2) I've never liked the taste of whole milk. Report
As the grand-daughter of dairymen, I can certainly assure you that "lactose intolerant" is NOT the norm.
Everything about this study's results give me the feeling that we will see a reversal of their findings soon. I do dislike the line of reasoning that if you eat low fat dairy, then you fill those missing calories with sugar. If anything, it seems to me that those who have the discipline to switch to low fat dairy will be less inclined to fill up on sweets. We'll see what the future holds on this topic. There does seem to be a steady drumbeat from the media that fat is good - I continue to be a skeptic of this line of reasoning. Report
I grew up on powdered skim milk and have gone back to skim milk for my cereal but choose full fat for my other dairy as I find that when they reduce the fat in cheese, yogurt and other dairy products the ingredient list grows with ingredients I don't recognize and can't pronounce. The ingredient list on the sour cream I use contains 5 items none of which are difficult to pronounce. I simply eat less of these items and only the recommended serving size (except on special occasions :-) ). Report
I hate skim milk. If I wanted to drink water I would drink water. I like 2%, but my father who lived to be 96 would drink nothing but "whole" milk, if you offered him milk. (Growing up on a farm during the depression you were just glad the cows were giving milk.) Report
Recommendations to eat dairy are spurious at best. Lactose intolerance is the human norm - fully 75% of the world's people can't eat milk after the age of 3 or thereabouts. In the US probably 25-30% are intolerant.

@JANETEMILY: "Whole milk" (aka full fat) IS recommending a whole food. That does not contradict the doctors comment in the least, it corroborates it. Taking the cream out of the milk targets a single ingredient, fat.

Study after study is exonerating natural fat in the diet, particularly for women, as long as it's packed with the other nutrients it came with. So the fat on the meat is cool. The fat from the partially hydrogenated GMO soybean oil that was extracted not by pressing but my passing hexane through it is NOT cool. Eat the butter. Don't even touch the soybean oil. Report
I'd like to have the study cited at the end. Was this another 'study' by the dairy board? It would seem to be, because the author LEADS with the dairy industry's ad (Milk, it does a body good.) I no longer trust any of these marketing/research studies, so I'll wait for real information, not (perhaps unintentional) propaganda. The truth is that adults don't need dairy as long as we are eating well otherwise. While I admit that I struggle to get my calcium in on days that I don't eat greens, I don't HAVE to eat dairy to do it. But a study that said that wouldn't sell any milk, now would it? Report
As the Doctor who led the study says, "we need to stop making recommendations based on single nutrients, we need to think of food as a whole." So it seems that recommending full fat over low fat, and vice versa, contradicts that statement! I drink skim milk because I like it, it's lower in calories, and can't see wasting my daily allowance on milk fat! I don't think regular dairy is the cause of anyone being overweight or diabetic; more likely it's the added sugars in many flavored dairy products anyway. Report
We hate the greasy taste of full fat dairy, have hated it for decades, so will continue to enjoy fat free milk, no matter what the author, who needs to come up with "something" to write about to make money, says.......,, Report
I am not a milk drinker and eat little dairy outside of Greek yogurt and ocassionally aged cheese. When I do use milk, I've always been more likely to tolerate it in the full fat form. Never could tolerate low fat or skimmed milks. Dairy can be a dicey proposition for me. Report
this really depends how you are losing weight!!! if you are on a low fat diet obviously skim milk is you only option. But if you are doing a low carb diet go full cream milk all the way or even cream if you want. The only milk that is low carb and low fat is unsweetened almond milk if you can handle the flavour Report
Other research has shown that low fat dairy is beneficial for those with Gout... so I will stay with my low fat dairy (milk, yogurt, cottage cheese). I do eat full fat cheeses, but watch my quantities.... Report