June is Dairy Month!  Here in Tillamook County, we have a lot to celebrate.  Our friends at the Oregon Dairy and Nutrition Council have provided us with an update on the topic of dairy fat.


Dairy fat has been in the news lately. Headlines say saturated fat is ok and that’s caused a bit of confusion, especially when some health recommendations still call for fat free and low fat. What do the experts say?


Besides being delicious, dairy foods are also an irreplaceable part of a healthy diet because they are packed with protein, calcium, and lots of other important vitamins and minerals. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating low-fat or nonfat dairy foods for everyone. But is there room for the higher fat dairy foods like whole milk, whole milk yogurt, cheese, and ice cream in your diet?


To answer that question, let’s begin by exploring the current science of fats and dairy fat.

First, your body needs fat for energy and growth. Fat helps us absorb some vitamins and also produces hormones that are important to our bodies. There are different types of fats and foods contain mixtures of different fats. Saturated fats are one type of fat found in animal fats such as meat and dairy foods, and some plant based fats such as coconut and palm.


What do we know about saturated fat?

For more than 70 years, scientists have linked diets high in saturated fat and cholesterol to an increased risk of heart disease (Dennett). Recently this conclusion is being challenged by scientists.  We reported a couple of years ago on the newer research showing saturated dairy fats may not be linked to heart disease in healthy adults. (Link to May 2016 Wellness article “The Whole Truth about Dairy Fat”) Let’s look at what we know now in 2018.


What have scientists found in the past couple of years?

There have been some recent, interesting studies looking at the effects of dairy fat on the risk of developing heart disease (Miller).  A 3 week study done in Denmark of 17 healthy adults found that drinking about 2 cups of whole milk a day instead of skim milk did not increase markers for heart disease: total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, or triglycerides. Also, drinking whole milk instead of skim milk increased the good HDL-cholesterol. (Engel)


A review of dairy and heart health found there was no evidence that eating dairy foods is bad for heart health. Full fat dairy foods were found to be neutral in terms of risk of heart disease (Drouin-Chartier). Maintaining a healthy weight is important for adults and a cup of whole milk does have 70 more calories than a cup of skim milk. But this research suggests that if foods and physical activity are balanced to maintain weight, whole milk can be a part of the diet of healthy adults. (Engel)


Researchers now consider saturated fat as a very large category of different substances. They have questioned the connection that all saturated fats influence the risk of heart disease in the same way. (Mozaffarian)  About two-thirds of the fatty acids in milk are saturated fat and there are more than 400 types of fatty acids in milk (Dennett). A 2012 study looking at different saturated fat-rich foods, found dairy fat was associated with less risk of heart disease than other saturated fat-rich foods (De Oliviera).



So how do dairy foods fit in my diet?

Can I eat ice cream, butter, and cheese? The simple answer is, yes. Dairy foods are an important source of protein, calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients. Three servings of dairy foods a day are part of a healthy eating pattern which also includes eating a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins.


The foods you choose are one part of a healthy lifestyle.  Other important factors are maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, not smoking, and drinking alcohol in moderation. Leading a healthy lifestyle will help us prevent chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes.


So stay tuned for more research on saturated fats. Focus on your lifestyle choices and enjoy nutritious dairy foods of varying fat contents (including a little ice cream) along with vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and whole grains.



Dennett C. 2016. The truth about dairy fats. Today’s Dietitian. 18 (10): 26.



De Oliveira Otto MC, Mozaffarian D, Kromhout D, et al. 2012. Dietary intake of saturated fat by food source and incident cardiovascular disease: the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. Am J Clin Nutr. 96 (2): 397-404.



Drouin-Chartier JP, Brassard D, Tessier-Grenier M, Cote JA, Labonte ME, Desroches S, Couture P, Lamarche B. 2016. Systematic review of the association between dairy product consumption and risk of cardiovascular-related clinical outcomes. Adv Nutr. 7 (6): 1026-1040. https://academic.oup.com/advances/article/7/6/1026/4568635


Engel S, Elhauge M, Tholstrup T. 2018. Effect of whole milk compared with skimmed milk on fasting blood lipids in healthy adults: a 3-week randomized crossover study. Eur J Clin Nutr. 72 (2): 249-254. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29229955


Guest. TillamookCountyHealthMatters.org. June 23, 2016. The “Whole” Truth about Dairy Fat. http://tillamookcountyhealthmatters.org/the-whole-truth-about-dairy-fat/


Miller G. National Dairy Council. February 27, 2018. Whole Milk Dairy Foods: Exploring the Evolving Science. https://www.nationaldiarycouncil.org/content/2018/milk-fat-exploring-the-evolving-science


Mozaffarian D. 2016. Dietary and policy priorities for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity: a comprehensive review. Circulation.133 (2): 187-225.


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