​Is Low-Fat Dairy or Full-Fat Dairy Better for You?

1. Focus on fermented dairy.

Not all dairy is created equal. There may be more of a health benefit to eating fermented dairy products such as cheese and yogurt and drinking fermented milk products such as kefir, says Mozaffarian. Research shows that the consumption of these forms of dairy lower risk of both death and cardiovascular disease, possibly because these foods are also rich in probiotics, a type of good bacteria that lives in your gut. Probiotics themselves can improve body weight and blood glucose and insulin levels, Mozaffarian notes. “This may also help explain why consumption of cheese, which is the dairy product that tends to be highest in fat, is also associated with a significantly lower risk of both coronary artery disease and stroke,” he said. Fermented dairy products are also rich in menaquinones, a form of vitamin K also shown to lower risk of heart disease, he adds.

2. Indulge in full-fat dairy no more than once a day.

There’s not enough evidence to recommend reduced-fat dairy products over whole-fat products, says Mozaffarian. But there’s also not enough research to definitively say that whole fat is better, he stresses. That’s why, until there’s more research, it may be prudent to continue to eat low-fat or fat-free dairy but allow yourself the luxury of one full-fat version of dairy a day, recommends Kratz. “This is especially true if you’re trying to lose weight, since full-fat dairy does have more calories,” he adds. “But if there’s a certain cheese you love, or a type of creamy full-fat yogurt you want to indulge in, that’s fine,” he says. Just check labels for added sugar and sodium content. Consider eating plain yogurt, for example, and adding your own fruit as well as flavors like cinnamon and vanilla. However, Kratz says you should still avoid butter and cream, because unlike other sources of dairy, these aren’t a rich nutrient.

3. Don’t stress if you have trouble digesting dairy.

If you are lactose intolerant, Mozaffarian recommends that you stick to dairy products that are naturally lower in lactose, such as hard cheeses and yogurt. You can also look for lactose-free or lactose-reduced milk products or take an over-the-counter lactase pill. Just don’t make the mistake of assuming you’ll get the same health benefits if you eschew dairy and take calcium and vitamin D supplements. “We need to stop thinking of dairy as simply a source of calcium and vitamin D,” says Mozaffarian. A 2019 review published in the journal Advances in Nutrition, for example, looked at 14 studies of older adults in their 60s, 70s and early 80s, and found that dairy protein significantly increased muscle mass. That’s why it’s so important to focus on dairy as a food whose nutrients work together synergistically, Mozaffarian adds.


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