Hi, I'm just wondering in foods like yogurt and cheese, I thought the skim or low fat was better, but someone said that it's worse for you. Is this true?

Dairy products like cheese, milk, and yogurt (regardless of the fat content) are excellent sources of calcium, vitamin D and pack a mean protein punch. For years I have been recommending that my patients consume a few servings of dairy a day. To be honest, I generally recommended low fat dairy products to patients, mostly because I wanted my patients to reduce their overall intake of saturated fats. These are the types of fats that may raise “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and raise overall cholesterol levels. But, as I have been reviewing the recent research, I do believe the information I provide my patients will be altered somewhat.

I just attended the Connecticut Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Annual Spring meeting. There were several amazing speakers but one of them specifically reviewed the topic of saturated fat (in part from dairy) and why it may not be as “bad” as people once thought. Saturated fat is still considered a nutrient to limit by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee; however, more research is needed looking at the effect of saturated fat from different sources. Different sources of saturated fat contain varying fatty acid profiles, which may have different metabolic and lipid effects. For example, in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, different foods rich in saturated fat had different effects on cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk. Saturated fatty acids from meat were associated with higher risk of CVD, while dairy fat was associated with a lower risk. The authors concluded that something about dairy foods may minimize the association between saturated fats and CVD (1).

My patients that want to lose weight generally need to reduce their overall calorie consumption. One way to reduce overall calorie intake may be to choose foods lower in fat. One cup of fat free yogurt generally has around 100 calories, while the full fat option may have ~220 calories. One cup of skim milk has around 90 calories while regular vitamin D milk has around 150 calories. However, I encourage my patients to keep in mind that many manufacturers remove the fat but then turn around and add sugar, so the calorie differences are not that big AND people then have to deal with added sugars in their diet. In addition, foods with fat tend to have more flavor. I remind my patients that they may not be as satisfied eating fat free yogurt when a cup of regular yogurt may taste better and help keep them fuller longer. Mario Kratz, PhD, MS is a faculty member at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and he has found that regular dairy products, not low fat dairy, has been consistently associated with more beneficial weight outcomes (2).

The moral of the story? I encourage you to choose the dairy foods that you like the taste of the best. Choose products (in moderation) that you enjoy eating and that leave you feeling satisfied.

1. de Oliveira Otto MC, Mozaffarian D, Kromhout D, et al. Dietary intake of saturated fat by food source and incident cardiovascular disease: the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;96(2):397-404.
2. Kratz M, Baars T, Guyenet S. The relationship between high-fat dairy consumption and obesity, cardiovascular, and metabolic disease. Eur J Nutr. 2013;52(1):1-24.

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