Fat in Food: Does the Fat in Dairy Foods Keep You Lean?

“Study links drinking fattier milk to lower weight,” reported USA Today in February.

“A study by Swedish experts found that, over a 12-year period, middle-aged men who used whole milk, cream, and butter had a lower risk of becoming obese than did peers who avoided fattier dairy products.”

Really?

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The study’s results were based on asking participants only three questions: What do you spread on sandwiches? What type of milk do you drink? How often do you eat whipping cream?

No one was asked if they put butter on foods other than bread. No one was asked how much milk they drank. No one was asked anything about cheese or yogurt.

Even the study’s authors acknowledged that they didn’t ask about “the vast list of processed dairy products available in the supermarkets of today.”

USA Today also cited a European review of 16 studies on dairy and obesity. But many of those studies found no link between full-fat dairy foods and weight. Most didn’t follow the participants over time, so it’s impossible to know if people were consuming higher-fat dairy because they were leaner or if higher-fat dairy made them leaner.

In the best of the 16 studies, which collected diet data every four years on 23,500 U.S. men, high-fat-dairy eaters had a greater risk of weight gain.

“This whole notion that high-fat dairy is associated with less weight gain isn’t really grounded in much solid evidence,” says Vasanti Malik, a research associate at the Harvard School of Public Health. “High-fat dairy might make you feel more satiated, but there isn’t strong data to back that up.”

As for young children, low-fat milk may be linked to weight gain because it’s chocolate milk or because parents of chubby kids are worried about whole milk. “If a one-year-old is larger than average, a parent might say, ‘I’m going to switch over to skim milk,’” says Malik.

Sources: Scand. J. Primary Health Care 31: 89, 2013; Eur. J. Clin. Nutr. 52: 1, 2013; Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 83: 559, 2006.

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