Is Whole Milk Healthy?

Turns out, full-fat milk may be better for you than you think.

September 11, 2020

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Photo by: sergeyryzhov/Getty Images

sergeyryzhov/Getty Images

America is drinking a lot more whole milk these days. Whole milk brands have had a 13% growth in sales in the first seven months of 2020 over the same period a year ago, according to the National Dairy Council. Since dairy milk consumption in general has been down year after year, an increase of a whopping 13% is rather monumental. But before you start worrying about the impact of all this whole milk to our national girth, you should know about some of the surprising benefits of whole milk.

Recently, researchers have found that some populations who eat mainly whole-fat dairy have less heart disease risk, less type 2 diabetes risk, and have lower body weights. “The newest research is showing that not all fats are created equal. Dairy fats have a unique makeup of short-, medium- and long-chain fatty acids which could explain why their fat content does not predict risk like other saturated fats,” explains Jennifer McDaniel, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD, founder of McDaniel Nutrition Therapy. “I’m now recommending that people eat the type of dairy they enjoy, within the context of a healthy diet.”

Here are some of the potential benefits of consuming whole milk dairy foods as part of a diet that also includes fruits, vegetables and other healthful foods.

May Lower Heart Disease Risk

Researchers looked at peoples’ diets from 21 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and South America in the PURE study; they found that consuming more servings of whole fat dairy foods (more than 2 servings vs less than 0.5 servings) was associated with lower risk of heart disease events. Further a review of 13 population review studies (meta-analyses) concluded that whole-fat dairy consumption was not associated with heart disease.

May Lower Risk for Type 2 Diabetes

More research is needed, but a growing body of scientific evidence indicates that eating whole-fat dairy foods is associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. Again, it appears that dairy fat is unique. In some studies, adults with higher levels of dairy fat (markers) in their blood had a 29% lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

May Lower Blood Pressure

The DASH Diet (consisting of lower-fat dairy foods, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other foods high-potassium foods) is a time-tested way to lower blood pressure without medication. Researchers found that even a modified DASH diet, using full-fat dairy instead of low-fat and fat-free, still showed positive outcomes for blood pressure and had the additional benefit of better blood triglyceride levels.

Potential Increased Satiety Without Weight Gain

“We are finding that the total dietary fat content may not matter if nutrient-dense foods are the focus,” says McDaniel. In a recent clinical study, researchers found that people who followed a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet lost the same amount of weight as those on a low-fat, high-carb diet. In an observational study, women who had higher consumption of whole-fat, but not low-fat dairy foods had less weight gain. As long as calorie levels generally stay about the same – often by lowering carbohydrates to offset increased calories from full-fat dairy – people often find increased fullness from whole milk dairy foods, explains McDaniel.

May Lead to Better Sleep

The combination of simple carbohydrates from milk sugars (lactose), milk proteins and milk fats in whole milk means that blood sugar levels should remain fairly stable throughout the night, preventing any major disruptions to sleep, says Karman Meyer, RD, LDN, author of Eat to Sleep: What to Eat and When to Eat It for a Good Night's Sleep. "There's good reason why your grandma's glass of warm whole milk before bed is still a wise idea for slumber."

Serena Ball, MS, RD is a registered dietitian nutritionist, food writer, and mom of four children. She blogs at TeaspoonOfSpice.com and is the author of the best-selling The 30-Minute Mediterranean Diet Cookbook and the newly released Easy Everyday Mediterranean Diet Cookbook. Follow her @TspCurry on Twitter and Instagram.

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