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Milkfat: Is Whole Milk better than Nonfat Milk for Your Health?

Ah, the joys of food fads, junk science... and faulty studies. Eggs are bad for you; eggs are good for you.  Fat is bad for you; no, sugar is worse!  Butter is bad for your heart - no, it's better than margarine.. All your life, you've seen the cycles as the same food is alternatively vilified as the downfall of all that is holy... and then a decade later hailed as the greatest superfood.  And the so-called experts just say "Oops, we were wrong THEN".  Of course, then never admit to being wrong NOW! But obviously, they often are.

So, you've now heard that whole milk is better for you than nonfat or skim milk.  And like any good consumer, you just believe it because "they" said so, and they are the "experts".

Well, hold on a minute, before you jump pour that whole milk in you green chai tea to with your whole wheat all fiber crumpet, let's look at who really says what about whole milk v. Skim.

Who says what about the health effects of milk fat

 Here's who is taking which side of the great milkfat debate:

"Milk fat is good for you - eat up" Advocates

None of the studies reported by the media to be "proof" that whole milk is better than nonfat actually say that. We haven't been able to find an actual conclusive scientific study, just lots of claims "whole milk fat isn't as bad for you as once thought" , like Today's Dietician

Research indicates fats in dairy foods don’t increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and may in fact benefit health.  ...emerging research indicates that dairy fat isn’t harmful to heart health as once thought. In fact, it may be beneficial. “The evidence is fairly strong,” says Greg Miller, president of the Dairy Research Institute and executive vice president of the National Dairy Council. According to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, Miller says consumption of milk and milk products - regardless of fat level - is associated with a lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of CVD and type 2 diabetes.

We added the emphasis to the keywords. Well pardon me, but "not as bad for you" is not the same as "good for you". The evidence isn't strong; it's "fairly strong". The research isn't concluded and published for examination it's "emerging",  And they say the conclusions are "indicated". All of this is hardly a strong endorsement. And guess what, the unpublished, not yet concluded, unverified study is conducted by a group that has a vested interest in getting you to drink more milk, the National Dairy Council.

By the time you remove all the watering down, inherit bias and lack of peer vetting, the study isn't worth a bucket of... cow spit.

Oddly, few point out a stronger argument, that when fat is removed from dairy products, beneficial fatty acids such as rumenic acid also are removed. And that is a valid point.  However, there are many other sources of fatty acids, such as avocados and  fish,  that do not include saturated fat baggage.


Tuft's University doesn't claim that milkfat is actually good for you or that whole milk is better than nonfat, only that people tend to eat more carbs if they eat nonfat milk rather than whole, and that these can increase the risks of diabetes. Their premise is that because fat is more satiating, or filling, eating some higher fat foods can lead to lower calorie intake overall.

The research, published in the journal Circulation, followed 3,333 adults over two decades, not only noting what they reported eating, but measuring biomarkers of dairy fat in their blood. In the end, the people who had the most dairy fat in their diet had a 46-percent lower risk of diabetes, compared with people who ate the least. Satiety may explain why. While the study does not prove cause and effect, author Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School, says other studies have shown that when people consume more low-fat dairy, they eat more carbohydrates to compensate.

But that does stop the media from exaggerating the findings: quickly ran a story that stretched even the researchers thin conclusions, titled "The skim milk myth: Why whole milk may be better for you". Granted, at least they say "may be" in the headline, but the story runs away with it. It sounbds like the real conclusion to draw is, if you cut down on saturated animal fats, which cuts calories and is better for your heart... it's not an excuse to stuff your face with twinkies.

Milk fat is bad for you (the conventional position)

In a study conducted by Harvard University's Chan School of Public Health, which researchers published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, they  investigated the relationship between dairy fat intake and risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart disease and stroke. (1) Researchers followed more than 43,000 men from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, 87,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study, and 90,000 women in the Nurses’ Healthy Study II to study the relationship between dairy fat and heart disease risk.

Here's a summery:

“These results suggest that dairy fat is not an optimal type of fat in our diets. Although one can enjoy moderate amounts of full-fat dairy such as cheese, a healthy diet pattern tends to be plant-based and low in saturated fat,” said Frank Hu, senior author of the study. “These results strongly support existing recommendations to choose mainly unsaturated fats from vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, avocados, and some oily fish for a heart-healthy diet.”

Our conclusion

First off, it sure looks like Dariush Mozaffarian is milking his 15 minutes of fame in the media with a conclusion that exceeds his study. He even admits is merely a correlation, and that can easily, and more plausibly be explained by many other factors.  We don't know what else the test subjects ate, their activity level, genetic predisposition, etc, all of which more directly affect predisposition towards diabetes.

Moving on to the mass media's assertion, that whole milk is "better" with regards to the risk of heart disease than nonfat milk, We still haven't found any other credible studies that supports this. Only this one incomplete and unvetted study.

Come back in 5 or 10 years, and we're confident our conclusion will be shown to be correct.  Fads come and go; and there's always a researcher looking for his 10 minutes of fame and to cash in with  a fad diet book and the fake news media eager to run with any crazy story to grab attention. . Just look to Dr. Linus Pauling and the the great Vitamin C debacle (there are STILL people who believe that mega doses of vitamin C cure colds and cancer, despite it being thoroughly debunked and evidence surfaced that proved he falsified his research. See this NPR article about the Vitamin C Myth.

We'll continue drinking nonfat milk which has fewer calories and almost no saturated animal fats, but all the protein and calcium. And also eat fresh fruit, veggies, fish, and less processed foods. That's just common sense.


If you see any studies or stories that either support or disprove the whole milk is better then nonfat claim, in any way, please send a url to the page to me!


  1.  Harvard University's Chan School of Public Health
  2. Nurses’ Health Study,
  3. Tuft's University