Stick to low-fat or fat-free dairy, nutrition guidelines frequently advise, and receive all the nutritional benefits of dairy (like calcium and protein) without the saturated fat that can raise cholesterol and lead to heart attacks and strokes.
That was the advice for decades from venerable sources like the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology and even the United States Department of Agriculture. But newer research suggests that fat in dairy isn’t necessarily bad — and could offer some useful benefits.
In a 2020 literature review published in the journal Advances in Nutrition, researchers concluded that instead of increasing risk factors for cardiometabolic health conditions like heart diseases or type 2 diabetes, full-fat dairy was associated with neutral or improved outcomes. Another study, published in 2021 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that among 73 patients with metabolic syndrome, eating at least three servings of full-fat dairy each day had no effect on their blood pressure or cholesterol compared to other patients who avoided dairy or consumed reduced or fat-free versions.
Researchers are still trying to figure out how full-fat dairy works and who is most likely to benefit. According to the British Heart Foundation, the nutrients found in milk may work in combination to confer health benefits. The higher fat content may also increase satiety, which can lead to eating less overall, according to National Public Radio.