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Dear Dietitian – Which is better: whole-fat or low-fat?

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PICT Leanne McCrate Dear Dietitian
Leanne McCrate, RD, LD, CNSC

Dear Dietitian

I recently read an article that said we should eat whole-fat dairy products like whole milk and yogurt. We’ve always heard that we should choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products. What gives?


Dear Laura,

You’re right; for years dietitians and physicians have warned against consuming full-fat dairy products. Skim milk and low-fat yogurt, right?  Well, maybe not.  In a recent study of 3,000 people age 65 or older, Otto et al. found no link between dairy fat and all-cause death, including mortality from heart disease and stroke. Furthermore, people who had the highest level of dairy fat had a 42% less risk of dying from a stroke. This study was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Before you get the cheese grater out, a study by T.H. Chan from Harvard found that replacing dairy fat with PUFA (poly-unsaturated fatty acid) brought a 24% decrease in the risk of heart disease and a 10% lower risk when replaced with vegetable fat. When dairy was replaced with a different animal fat, the risk of heart disease rose by 6%. Finally, replacing dairy fat with whole grains, like whole wheat bread or bran cereal, brought a whopping 28% lower risk of heart disease. This study was also published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

What is one to make of all these numbers? The studies on dairy fat and heart disease and stroke have produced inconsistent results. More studies need to be performed before we can hammer out a firm answer. My advice is to err on the side of caution. Stick with low-fat, low- sugar dairy products, and maybe treat yourself to a full-fat dairy once a week. After all, we all   want our ticker to keep on ticking.


Dear Dietitian

Leanne McCrate, RD, LD, CNSC, is an award-winning dietitian with over fifteen years of experience. Have a question?  Email Leanne at