Low-Fat vs Full-Fat Dairy

Which is better for health and body composition?

Are low-fat dairy products healthier? In the case of low-fat products, the fat must be separated from proteins and sugar during preparation and therefore, low-fat dairy is more processed than whole milk. Based on that some might assume that lof-fat dairy is worse for health than whole, full-fat dairy.

Recently, the benefits of low-fat products for health and body composition have been demonstrated in tightly controlled studies.

Why have low-fat products been recommended so far?
1. They contain fewer calories
2. Low-fat dairy is nutritionally denser fat does not contain many nutrients
3. Lower fat means lower intake of saturated fat

However, the evidence was not strong for any of these claims, mostly based on observational studies. For example, one of the problems in studies comparing populations was that they did not examine the intake of low-fat and full-fat products separately. It can easily happen that people who consume the most dairy products consume the most full-fat and low-fat dairy products at the same time.

To date, most studies of dairy products have shown their health benefits, especially yogurts and fermented products. (Thorning, T. et. Al., 2017)

However, there have been several high-quality controlled studies comparing the intake of low-fat and full-fat dairy products and their effect on health and body composition.

Effect of dairy on glucose levels, insulin sensitivity, and lipid profile

Studies by Kelsey A. Schmidt give us a better insight into the issue.

In these controlled studies, they used 3.3 servings (One serving equals the amount of a 1-cup serving of milk.) of dairy products per day, which based on their research would reflect the common preference of people.

72 people completed the studies. They ate ad-libidum (however much food they wanted) with the only condition being to consume the required amount of dairy products that was assigned to them.

Before the diet protocol, they completed 4 weeks with a limited intake of dairy products to skimmed milk at a maximum of three portions per week.

Subsequently, they follow their assigned diet for 12 weeks. One group was assigned a limited intake of dairy products, the second group was assigned to eat only low-fat products, and the third group was assigned to eat only full-fat dairy products.

 
  Limited Dairy Intake Group Low-Fat Dairy Group Full-Fat Dairy Group
Glucose tolerance  no change no change no change
Insulin sensitivity no change low negative impact low negative impact
Lipid profile (HDL,LDL,..) no change no change no change

Groups two and three consumed 3.3 portions of low-fat or full-fat dairy products a day. One serving equals the amount of a 1-cup serving of milk.

Based on teh studies of Schmidt et. al. 2021; Schmidt et. al 2020,

Effects of dairy on body composition

 
  Limited Dairy Intake Group Low-Fat Dairy Group Full-Fat Dairy Group
Energy Intake no change 166+167kcal higher intake 384+175kcal higher intake

Groups two and three consumed 3.3 portions of low-fat or full-fat dairy products a day. One serving equals the amount of a 1-cup serving of milk.

Based on the studies of Schmidt et. al. 2021; Schmidt et. al 2020, Trichia et. al 2019

According to the study by Trichia et.al. 2019, in which they evaluated a sample of 12,065 people, found that the daily intake of one serving of milk was associated with 0.33 kg higher lean body weight (fat-free weight).

When we combine these observational studies with controlled more accurate studies, we can see that the consumption of dairy products, especially low-fat ones, has a positive effect on body composition.

 
  Nonfat Greek Yogurt Low-Fat Milk Full-Fat Milk Heavy Whipping Cream Chedar Cheese
Energy (kcal) 59 42 61 340 402
Protein (g) 10 3.4 3.2 2.8 22.9
Fat (g) 0.1 1 3.1 36.1 33.3

Nutrition per 100g

Conclusion

  • Dairy products have a positive association with health and body composition., especially fermented dairy products.
  • Low-fat dairy products are proving to be a better choice for weight-loss and muscle mass than high-fat products.
  • Slightly reduced insulin sensitivity and blood glucose tolerance cannot yet be associated with adverse health effects. This is a common short-term fluctuation.

Sources

  1. Kelsey A Schmidt, Gail Cromer, Maggie S Burhans, Jessica N Kuzma, Derek K Hagman, Imashi Fernando, Merideth Murray, Kristina M Utzschneider, Sarah Holte, Jana Kraft, Mario Kratz, The impact of diets rich in low-fat or full-fat dairy on glucose tolerance and its determinants: a randomized controlled trial, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 113, Issue 3, March 2021, Pages 534–547, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqaa301
  2. Schmidt KA, Cromer G, Burhans MS, Kuzma JN, Hagman DK, Fernando I, Murray M, Utzschneider KM, Holte S, Kraft J, Kratz M. Impact of low-fat and full-fat dairy foods on fasting lipid profile and blood pressure: exploratory endpoints of a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2021 Sep 1;114(3):882-892. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqab131. PMID: 34258627; PMCID: PMC8408839.
  3. Trichia, E., Imamura, F., Brage, S., De Lucia Rolfe, E., Griffin, S., Wareham, N., & Forouhi, N. (2019). Associations of types of dairy consumption with adiposity: Cross-sectional findings from over 12 000 adults in the Fenland Study, UK. British Journal of Nutrition, 122(8), 928-935. doi:10.1017/S0007114519001776
  4. Tanja Kongerslev Thorning, Hanne Christine Bertram, Jean-Philippe Bonjour, Lisette de Groot, Didier Dupont, Emma Feeney, Richard Ipsen, Jean Michel Lecerf, Alan Mackie, Michelle C McKinley, Marie-Caroline Michalski, Didier Rémond, Ulf Risérus, Sabita S Soedamah-Muthu, Tine Tholstrup, Connie Weaver, Arne Astrup, Ian Givens, Whole dairy matrix or single nutrients in assessment of health effects: current evidence and knowledge gaps, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 105, Issue 5, May 2017, Pages 1033–1045, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.116.151548