For years, the idea that low fat milk is healthier than whole milk has been ingrained in the U.S. healthy diet culture. Unsurprisingly, a shift in this belief is bound to cause confusion among the health community.

A recommendation change from skim or low fat milk to whole milk is expected with the upcoming release of revised dietary guidelines this winter. The change is said to be backed by studies that whole milk, and saturated fats, is not as unhealthy as it was once thought and may even be healthier in the long run.

Assistant professor Marcia Otto of the University of Texas said that, by discouraging consumption of full fat dairy, the U.S. is putting consumers at greater risk of contracting chronic illnesses.

"What we have learned over the last decade is that certain foods that are high in fat seem to be beneficial," Otto said.

A recent study found that whole milk drinkers are not at higher risk of developing cardiac disease than low fat milk drinkers. There is also no evidence to prove that low fat milk is better for those planning to lose weight while those wanting to gain some may benefit from consuming whole milk.

"In terms of obesity, we found no support for the notion that low-fat dairy is healthier," said Dr. Mario Kratz, author of the study and nutrition scientist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle. "None of the research suggested low-fat dairy is better."

However, there is also little evidence to prove that whole milk is healthier than skim milk. There are, in fact, studies that prove otherwise, as findings still prove that unsaturated fats are still better at safeguarding against heart disease than saturated fats found in whole milk.

What does all this mean then?

Researchers are starting to believe that the consideration when it comes to fat is to also choose its substitute carefully.

The research found that people who shift from whole milk and saturated fat to low fat varieties tend to supplement their caloric needs with sugars and carbohydrates. This substitution most likely offsets whatever benefits a consumer can get from switching to low fat milk.

Consumers might get better heart disease protection by shifting to skim milk as well as choosing unsaturated fat containing foods as calorie sources.

In conclusion, choosing what kind of foods to replace saturated fat calorie sources the body needs is just as important as the decision to shift to consuming low fat products.

"The quality of fats and carbohydrates with which we replace saturated fat is critically important," said Professor Frank Hu of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. "There is little evidence to support the assertion that whole milk is more healthful than reduced-fat milk."

Photo: Mike Mozart | Flickr 

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