Low-fat, skinny, or skim – whatever you call the milk in your tea, it’s getting a scalding in the latest headlines.
You may have heard over the past couple of weeks that a new study has challenged the notion that reduced-fat milk is a good health choice, urging 'even the most health conscious to revert back to full-cream'.
For the past 20 years health experts have told us to go lean on the cream and many of us have taken their advice. In Australia, full-cream milk now accounts for just under half (49%) of all milk sales (2010–11), significantly less than 10 years ago, when 57% of milk sales were full-cream.
The study which has caused all the fuss was published in the European Journal of Nutrition, and reviewed 16 studies that looked at the relationship between full-fat dairy (including milk, yoghurt, cream, cheese and butter) and obesity, diabetes and heart disease. The authors found:
Eating full-fat dairy does not increase the risk of obesity.
The link between full-fat dairy and diabetes risk is inconsistent.
There's also inconsistent evidence that full-fat dairy increases the risk of developing heart disease.
From this, news reports began proclaiming 'low-fat milk is unhealthy!' and went on to suggest we instead buy full-fat milk and drink it guilt-free.
Those who still use full-fat milk on their cereal may be feeling righteous. While those of us who’ve converted to lighter milk are right to be confused.
So, which type of milk should we really be drinking? Dr Flavia Fayet Moore, from Nutrition Research Australia, explains the type of studies that were included in this review had many limitations and the links between dairy and heart disease, obesity and diabetes are complex.
“What these results show is that the fat content of dairy is unlikely to make you fat. But, obesity is a complex problem and the focus should be placed on the whole diet and whole foods, rather than focusing on single nutrients such as the fat content of a food”, she said.
And, with regards to diabetes and heart disease, “the results are very mixed and inconsistent, so nothing can really be taken from this data.”
This study doesn't mean that drinking litres of full-fat milk will make you healthier, as some media reports have suggested. Rather, researchers need to study the possible links between drinking full-fat milk and some health issues more closely.
Are you wondering what to choose? For now, the health recommendations surrounding milk stay the same.
“It may be okay to choose full-fat milk, yoghurt or cheese, as these come packed with other nutrients, but if you’re at risk of heart disease, then you should still replace some of the saturated fat from butter, cream and processed foods with unsaturated [‘heart-healthy’ fats from oils, fish and avocado],” Fayet Moore says.
“Continue to follow the Dietary Guidelines and Heart Foundation recommendations to choose reduced-fat dairy, particularly if you are at risk of heart disease”.
Did you know? More than half of Australians now drink low-fat milk.