Dairy—Low Fat or Whole?

There is conflicting advice on dairy, to put it mildly. The common wisdom is that low or no fat dairy is preferred. The data fails to support that.

We again deal with cows, both sacred and secular. The relevant sacred one states: “Thou shalt not consumest whole fat dairy.” Since this is a sacred cow, no science is necessary, which is fortunate for the beast as there is currently a lot of science stating the exact opposite; that whole fat dairy is better for you than low or no fat dairy, and that you will live longer and have less heart disease.

In a grocery store, it can be easier to find kosher bacon than find whole milk, yogurt, or cottage cheese. It’s all reduced-fat. Shoppers want low fat dairy, but why? It doesn’t taste better. Skim milk tastes awful. Somehow the shopping public has been brainwashed into believing that reduced fat dairy products are better for you. This is a myth, and there is no data to support this. Interestingly, the public also believes that dairy products in general are bad for you, or somehow undesirable.

Where do these notions come from?

Let us see what the high priests of medical wisdom are currently dispensing as official dietary advice.

American Heart Association

Eat an overall healthy dietary pattern that emphasizes:

  • a variety of fruits and vegetables
  • whole grains
  • low-fat dairy products
  • skinless poultry and fish
  • nuts and legumes
  • non-tropical vegetable oils

American Diabetes Association

Low Fat

A low-fat eating pattern includes vegetables, fruits, starches, lean protein, such as chicken and turkey without the skin, fish, and low-fat dairy products.

British National Health Service

Try to go for lower-fat and lower-sugar products where possible, like 1% fat milk, reduced-fat cheese or plain low-fat yoghurt.

Now few doctors are going to go against these august bodies. But where did all this low-fat stuff come from? There seems to be no clear answer. We will soon arrive at a review of several recent well-done papers which, to put it bluntly, demolish the above advice. But first, lets see if we can dredge up some history.

Skinny Is beautiful

America has had a skinny is beautiful fixation off and on for the last 100 years. And it is widely believed that to obtain this corporal nirvana, one must reduce calories and fat. After all, you are what you eat, as the saying goes. (Well, actually, you are what you metabolize, which is a very different thing, and low calories and low fat aren’t the ticket at all, but the low fat, low calorie notion has a long history.)

Saturated fat and cholesterol are bad

Along came the saturated fat and cholesterol movement in the 1970s. Blatantly ignoring evidence to the contrary, saturated fat and cholesterol were condemned, high carbs, especially whole grain were the new miracle food. The cereal industry thrived on this advice along with the cholesterol-reducing drug industry.

Dairy is proclaimed bad.

This seems to be a combination of things. Price supports put butter out of reach for many. Margarine (pure transfat) was the substitute and proclaimed better. Animal rights activists entered the fray, proclaiming dairy inflammatory and vegan substitutes healthier.

So what have we to show for all this?

We have

  • An obesity epidemic
  • A diabetes epidemic
  • An Alzheimer’s epidemic.
  • Life Expectancy in America is on a downward trend.

Somehow, in spite of all this, almost the entire medical profession is still pushing the low-fat food.

There has never been any solid science showing that low fat was better for you.

In fact, most of the low fat, low cholesterol advice claims as its basis the Framingham Study, which chronicled the dietary habits and health of several thousand individuals, starting in 1948 and continuing today. Now here is where it gets really weird. The Framingham Study never concluded that low-fat diets were in any way better or that saturated fat was bad. It seems that the major players just made it up. Sounds too crazy to be true, doesn’t it, but there it is. So this goes on for decades and continues today.

What does the research actually say?

Here are several interesting results.

  • People that eat dairy reduce their risk of adult onset diabetes 40%. This can be found here. Further, high fat dairy and cheese showed a 70% reduction. This would seem to indicate that dairy consumption is good for you.
  • A huge study, reported here, showed no association with dairy fat and heart disease.
  • This study, here, showed significantly less cardiac disease, especially stroke, for people who consumed the most dairy fat. This led the authors to this circumspect conclusion: Although for decades dairy fat consumption has been hypothesized to be a risk factor for CVD, as well as potentially diabetes, weight gain, and cancer, little empirical evidence for these effects existed from studies of clinical events.”

Conclusion

Something is broken. For decades we have been receiving serious and stern advice and living shorter because of it. And what was the basis? Again “ little empirical evidence for these effects existed from studies of clinical events.” We conclude that:

  • Medical authorities simply made things up.
  • Medical authorities based recommendations on unverified beliefs.
  • Drug companies and the food industry exploited a period of change in dietary recommendations.

Probably all of the above. We hear a lot about evidence-based medicine these days. Procedures and protocols are supposed to be confirmed by clinical trial before being inflicted on the general public. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to review the existing procedures and protocols. The low-fat, whole-grain thing is still completely mainstream, and we are suffering—dying—because of it.

  3 comments for “Dairy—Low Fat or Whole?

  1. JJ
    December 12, 2018 at 2:57 pm

    One of the studies you cited has this conclusion:

    “In conclusion, we showed that, compared with carbohydrates in the diet, dairy fat is not associated with risk of CVD. However, the substitution of dairy fat with vegetable or polyunsaturated fats is associated with lower risk of CVD, whereas the replacement of dairy fat with other animal fat is associated with slightly higher CVD risk. In addition, the replacement of dairy fat with high-quality carbohydrates from whole grains is associated with lower risk of CVD. These results support current recommendations to replace animal fats, including dairy fat, with vegetable sources of fats and polyunsaturated fat (both n–6 and n–3) in the prevention of CVD.“

  2. Powerband
    January 18, 2019 at 2:22 pm

    The first study you linked above was supported by the Dannon Company. That doesn’t mean it is invalid, but shouldn’t it raise questions about the finding?

  3. Charles Davis
    November 6, 2020 at 1:08 pm

    Where are the comments?

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