Charalambides Christis
Search the website
Main Content

Is full fat milk good for you? | Charalambides Christis

March 7, 2024

By Ellie Hadjilucas Public Health & Sports Nutritionist

Are milk, cheese, and yogurt essential components of a balanced diet, or do they contain unhealthy fats that can elevate cholesterol levels? Senior Dietitian Victoria Taylor examines the latest research on full-fat dairy.

From the "Milk's gotta lotta bottle" campaign in the 1980s to the more recent "Make mine milk," marketers have consistently emphasized the health benefits of milk. While the calcium in milk is beneficial for teeth and bones, consumers have long been advised to opt for low-fat dairy to avoid saturated fats, which can increase cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease.

UK guidelines continue to recommend choosing reduced-fat dairy products. However, recent research suggests that dairy products may offer more than just fat content. The combination of nutrients they provide could have positive effects on heart health.

The Australian Heart Foundation has released a new statement endorsing dairy foods such as milk, cheese, and yogurt as healthy snacks. It concludes that while individuals with high cholesterol should opt for low-fat dairy, there isn't enough evidence to recommend low-fat over full-fat dairy for others. However, this guidance only applies to milk, cheese, and yogurt, not butter or cream, which should be consumed in moderation.

Despite the presence of saturated fats in dairy, studies indicate that these foods may have a neutral or even beneficial effect on heart health. They may also help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, both of which are linked to heart attacks and strokes.

However, much of the research is observational and cannot establish cause and effect. Further investigation is needed to understand why dairy foods may be beneficial. Researchers speculate that a combination of nutrients, including calcium, potassium, and phosphates, may contribute to these benefits.

In conclusion, while full-fat dairy may have potential health benefits, it's still advisable to choose low or reduced-fat options, especially for individuals with high cholesterol. These options also tend to be lower in calories, which can aid in weight management. Additionally, it's important to limit overall saturated fat intake and maintain a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods such as fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, and whole grains. Dairy should make up approximately 8% of the diet, with an emphasis on milk, yogurt, and cheese over butter and cream.

So, is full-fat dairy ok?

Our advice is: don’t stock up on full-fat dairy just yet. There’s unlikely to be any harm in choosing low or reduced-fat dairy products (as long as they don’t have added sugar to replace the fat) and it has a clear benefit if you have high cholesterol. Lower-fat versions of milk, cheese and plain yoghurt are also lower in energy (calories) and so can be helpful if you are trying to manage your weight.

The type of fat found in dairy is saturated and, because we eat dairy foods regularly, this can add up. On average, dairy products make up about a quarter of the saturated fat we eat. We’re all advised to reduce the amount of saturated fat we eat and replace it with unsaturated fat like the kind in vegetable oils, nuts and oily fish. 

There’s also no evidence that we would benefit from eating more dairy products than is currently recommended. As usual when it comes to what you eat, it’s more useful to think about your whole diet than to focus on certain aspects of it. A portion of yoghurt with fruit and wholegrain cereal is a healthier meal for a whole range of reasons than a burger topped with slices of processed cheese, or a whole milk latte with a slice of cake. Aim for a healthy balanced diet which includes dairy alongside lots of fruit and vegetables, fish, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils and wholegrains.

« Back

© 2024 Charalambides Christis. All rights reserved.