Contrary to popular wisdom, whole milk may be better than skim milk

The 2015 dietary guidelines of the United States Departments of Agriculture and Human Health Services will be released in a few short weeks. Issued once every five years, these guidelines set the standard for health and nutrition the world over.

In anticipation of the new guidelines, many are speculating that this time around the USDA will finally alter its recommendations on milk.

For quite some time, general wisdom held that low-fat or fat-free skim milk was healthier than whole milk. Yet new research suggests that the fats that can be found in whole milk are actually beneficial.

Whole milk, especially that of Jersey Cows, is high in fat and in calories. In an age where thin is in but losing weight is hard, many people opt for skim milk as a small way to diet. But this may not be for the best.

“The campaign to reduce fat in the diet has had some pretty disastrous consequences,” said Walter Willett, dean of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health. “With more fat-free products than ever, Americans got fatter.”

In recent years, research has repeatedly shown that the fats that can be found in high-quality sources- such as milk- do a great deal of good in the human body.

The study conducted for the National Institute of Health concludes:

“The observational evidence does not support the hypothesis that dairy fat or high-fat dairy foods contribute to obesity or cardiometabolic risk, and suggests that high-fat dairy consumption within typical dietary patterns is inversely associated with obesity risk.”

In other words, people who regularly drink whole milk are no more likely to become diabetic or obese. Indeed, drinking whole milk may actually decrease one’s risk of developing these ailments.

The scientists behind the recent studies argue that by insisting on skim milk, the US is “losing a huge opportunity for the prevention of disease,” said Marcia Otto, of the University of Texas and the lead author of large studies published in 2012 and 2013 “What we have learned over the last decade is that certain foods that are high in fat seem to be beneficial.”

Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death in America. Therefore the USDA and HHS must very carefully consider any possible way to prevent such diseases.

Whole milk contains high amounts of saturated fat that, when broken down, helps a person absorb vitamins and minerals. Saturated fats also help facilitate a large range of bodily functions including permitting muscle movement, building cell membranes, and assisting in blood clotting.

“If we are going to make recommendations to the public about what to eat, we should be pretty darn sure they’re right and won’t cause harm,” said Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist, epidemiologist, and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts University. “There’s no evidence that the reduction of saturated fats should be a priority.”

Mozaffarian and Otto are not the only ones arguing in favor of saturated fats like those contained in whole milk. There is a growing body of knowledge that concludes that, contrary to popular belief, saturated fats do not contribute to heart disease:

“There is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease,” said a 2010 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

“Current evidence does not clearly support” guidelines linking saturated fat and heart disease, according to studies published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

“[People] may benefit from having a little bit of whole milk or whole milk cheese that’s more satisfying because the fat content actually makes you feel fuller and it also helps absorb fat soluble vitamins”, according to research by the Harvard T.H. Chan College of Public Health.

Unfortunately, the government is often slow to change its recommendations as to what is healthy and what is not. And altering milk endorsements would constitute a big change. Despite the numerous studies that argue in favor of whole milk, the long-standing convention that skim milk is better will not disappear overnight. At the very least, the 2015 guidelines may start to reduce calls against whole milk.

“There is no scientific basis for current dietary advice regarding dairy,” said Jocelyne R. Benatar, a researcher from New Zealand. “Fears [about whole milk] are not supported by evidence. The message that it is okay to have whole fat food, including whole fat milk, is slowly seeping into consciousness. But there is always a lag between evidence and changes in attitude.”

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