It’s no secret that dairy milk has faced a slew of competitive beverages over recent years, many of them plant based. For dairy milk consumers, low fat and fat-free varieties have long been a popular choice, but advancing research gives good reason for consumers to include full-fat dairy products in their healthy eating patterns.
Full-fat dairy products are shown to have a positive impact on chronic disease risk at a time when heart disease, diabetes, and obesity are affecting a significant portion of adults and children. One study found a diet with higher amounts of fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, fish, and whole-fat dairy is associated with lower cardiovascular disease — especially in countries with smaller incomes where consumption of these foods is limited. Another study that examined the relationship between consuming different fat types of dairy foods and risk of diabetes found protective associations for high-fat dairy types. In addition, current science suggests that full-fat dairy foods may have positive effects on cardiometabolic health, depending on an individual’s overall health.
These positive associations with full-fat dairy foods are not based on individual nutrients but rather on the dairy matrix, which includes both the nutrient and non-nutrient components of foods — vitamins, minerals, and bioactive components, as well as physical structure, texture, and form. Together, these elements can affect digestion, absorption, and physiological functions important for health.
Emerging research on the benefits of dairy foods, including full-fat versions, is especially relevant now, as the “food is medicine” philosophy and resulting programs move into the mainstream, catching the attention, action, and dollars of the public health and health care communities, food policy advocates, and more. Food is medicine is also considered an important solution to improving nutrition security and addressing health inequities often seen in under-resourced communities. Dairy has an opportunity to be integral to these efforts both through contributions to federal and child nutrition assistance programs and through growing efforts that include food prescription programs and even medically tailored meals.
To learn more on emerging dairy foods research, stay tuned for Dairy Council of California’s 2024 Trends report to be released in early January. Meanwhile, see past Trends reports at DairyCouncilofCA.org/Trends or visit HealthyEating.org.