Dairy Foods, including Full-Fat, Are Linked to Decreased Weight Gain in Women

February 26, 2016

If you’ve been following the latest research on dairy foods and nutrition, no doubt you’ve heard about the emerging research that finds consumption of whole and reduced-fat milk and milk products is likely not associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk as once thought and in some cases, saturated fat from dairy foods have actually been associated with a reduced risk of CVD.

In fact, a recent randomized controlled trial indicates that full-fat dairy (i.e., whole milk and milk products), when included in the DASH healthy eating plan with reduced dietary sugars, can improve cardiovascular risk factors similar to the traditional DASH diet. We’ve also discussed how it can be possible to include whole milk and milk products in a nutritious diet and still manage weight. A new study published yesterday in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition focuses on dairy consumption and weight management, and builds on these previous studies with some promising results for dairy overall, and for full-fat dairy, in particular.

The study found that initially normal weight women who consumed higher dairy at baseline had less weight gain over the course of 17 years. This reinforces findings from previous studies that have shown dairy consumption, in general, is favorable for weight outcomes. The really interesting part was when the authors separated out dairy consumption by fat levels, examining both full-fat dairy and low-fat dairy. They found that women who reported eating higher full-fat dairy had less weight gain over this time period. Higher full fat dairy intake was also associated with a reduced risk of becoming overweight or obese – whereas there was no association, or a neutral finding, for total dairy and low-fat dairy on overweight and obesity risk. The authors concluded “…that higher total dairy intake was associated with less weight gain. These findings seemed to be driven by high-fat dairy intake.”

To be sure, there have been studies published previously examining the question of whether full-fat dairy consumption, by virtue of its higher caloric content, may result in increased risk for overweight or obesity. However, in 2013, a systematic review paper was published that found in 11 of 16 studies identified, full-fat dairy intake was inversely associated with measures of adiposity, similar to the latest findings. What makes the latest findings unique is simply the size of the study, which examined 18,438 participants.

It is important to note that these findings are observational in nature; therefore, the study does not provide a causal effect between full fat dairy consumption and improved weight management outcomes. However, the evidence from the totality of the observational research is becoming clear: full-fat dairy does not appear to be associated with increased risk for overweight or obesity despite its higher caloric content, and in some cases actually shows a beneficial association for weight management. Just why this is the case is not known and requires more interventional research to address causal effects. It is possible that those who consume full-fat dairy foods consume them at the expense of other foods, thus allowing caloric balance, but more research is needed to understand this.

Stay tuned for more answers from more research, as this area of study is moving at a fast pace!