When it comes to most things, low-fat versions are undoubtedly less satisfying than their regular counterparts. You know what that means: To liven up bland, watery, low-fat products, manufacturers add more carbs, in the form of sugar or starchy thickeners. Take yogurt, for instance. One cup of full-fat yogurt has 138 calories, 7 grams of fat, and 11 grams of carbohydrate. But the non-fat version has 127 calories, 0.4 grams of fat, and 17 grams of carbs. The calorie savings of the non-fat version is small—and it's offset in a big way by the increase in carbs. And then there's that well-known research showing that when people eat low-fat products, they end up eating even more calories than they would have eating the regular versions.

Do we need to watch our portion sizes? Yes. If you eat dairy fat with abandon and forget fruits and vegetables, will there be negative health consequences? Of course. But scientific knowledge to date simply doesn't support avoiding dairy fat to the extent the current guidelines tell us to. You may not only be missing out on flavor and satisfaction, but also health benefits and natural weight-control help.

Food Serving Calories Fat Protein Carbs
whole milk (3.25% fat) 8 oz 150 8 8 11
2% milk (2% fat) 8 oz 122 5 8 12
low-fat milk (1% fat) 8 oz 100 2.5 8 12
non-fat (skim) milk 8 oz 86 0.5 8 12
cheddar cheese 1 oz 114 9 7 0.4
low-fat cheddar 1 oz 49 2 7 0.5
mozzarella cheese 1 oz 80 6 5.5 0.6
low-fat mozzarella 1 oz 72 4.5 7 0.8
cottage cheese 1 cup 232 10 28 6
cottage cheese, 2% fat 1 cup 203 4 31 8
cottage cheese, 1% fat 1 cup 163 2 28 6
full-fat yogurt 1 cup 138 7 8 11
low-fat yogurt 1 cup 143 3.5  12 16
non-fat yogurt 1 cup 127 0.4 13 17
cream 1 Tbsp 29 3 0.4 0.5
half and half 1 Tbsp 20 1.7 0.6 0.5
non-fat half and half 1 Tbsp 8 0 0.5 1.5
sour cream 1 Tbsp 26 2.5 0.4 0.5
non-fat sour cream 1 Tbsp 15 0 0.5 2

Editor's Update 12/22/10 — A study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health has identified a natural substance in diary fat that may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. The substance, called trans-palmitoleic acid, is a fatty acid found in milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter. Tran-palmitoleic acid may be the reason behind recent studies that show dairy-rich diets are linked to lower risk of type 2 and related metabolic conditions. In a study of 3,736 participants, higher levels of trans-palmitoleic acid were linked with healthier levels of blood cholesterol, inflammatory markers, insulin levels, and insulin sensitivity. Participants with higher levels of trans-palmitoleic acid also had about a 60 percent lower risk of developing diabetes compared to people with low levels of the fatty acid. Additional research needs to be done to determine the therapeutic value of trans-palmitoliec acid.

Editor's Update 3/8/12 — Some researchers believe a lot of saturated fat in the diet increases insulin resistance. The study that's often cited to support this is the KANWU Study (the acronym comes from the five Swedish cities the participants came from). The KANWU Study results were published in 2001 in Diabetologia, a prestigious journal for diabetes research. The article reported that a diet high in saturated fat decreased insulin sensitivity — but only when compared to a diet high in monounsaturated fat, and only when the study subjects were healthy adults who didn't have diabetes. The KANWU Study, however, is the only significant study to show a link between saturated fat and insulin resistance. In 2008, a major article in the British Journal of Nutrition reviewed the research about saturated fat and insulin resistance. After looking at fifteen studies that met strict requirements for the quality of the research, the authors concluded that only the KANWU study showed that saturated fat increased insulin resistance. The other studies showed that the amount of saturated fat in the diet made no difference to insulin resistance. The most the review article authors could say was: "We conclude that the role of dietary fat quality on insulin sensitivity in human subjects should be further studied, using experimental designs that address the limitations of existing data sets."

So, if you're concerned about increasing your insulin resistance, should you avoid saturated fat? We can't say for sure, but there are other good reasons to eat full-fat dairy foods. While we wait for more conclusive evidence, as always, be aware of portion size and eat full-fat dairy foods as part of a varied diet.

Sheila Buff is a freelance writer specializing in health, nutrition, and diabetes. She is the coauthor, with Dr. Alan Pressman, of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Vitamins and Minerals (Alpha Press, 2007).


1- Siri-Tarino Patty W, Qi Sun, Frank B Hu, and Ronald M Krauss. 2010. Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 91(3): 535–546.
2 - M Bonthuis, M C B Hughes, T I Ibiebele, A C Green and J C van der Pols. 2010. Dairy consumption and patterns of mortality of Australian adults. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 64: 569–577.
3 - Rosell Magdalena, Niclas N Hakansson, Alicja Wolk. 2006. Association between dairy food consumptions and weight change over 9 y in 19,352 perimenopausal women. Am J Clin Nutr. 84(6): 1481–1488.
4 - Whigham, Leah D., A.C. Watras, D.A. Schoeller. 2007. Efficacy of conjugated linoleic acid for reducing fat mass: a meta-analysis in humans. Am J Clin Nutr. (85(5): 1203–1211.
5- Wansink, Brian and Pierre Chandon (2006), "Can "Low-Fat" Nutrition Labels Lead to Obesity?," Journal of Marketing Research, 43:4 (November), 605-17.
6- Mozaffarian, Dariush, Haiming Cao, Irena B. King, Rozenn N. Lemaitre, Xiaoling Song, David S. Siscovick, and Gokhan S. Hotamisligil. 2010. Trans-Palmitoleic Acid, Metabolic Risk Factors, and New-Onset Diabetes in U.S. Adults. Annals of Internal Medicine, 153:12, 790-799.
7. Harvard School of Public Health. "Component in Common Dairy Foods May Cut Diabetes Risk." http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-realeases/2010-releases/dairy-foods-diabetes-risk.html (Accessed 12/22/10).
8. Galgani JE, Uauy RD, Aguirre CA, Diaz EO. 2008. Review article: Effect of the dietary fat quality on insulin sensitivity. British Journal of Nutrition 100:471–479.
9. Vessby B, Uusitupa M, Hermansen K, Riccardi G, Rivellese AA, Tapsell LC, Nlsn C, Berglund L, Louheranta A, Rasmussen BM, Calvert GD, Maffetone A, Pedersen E, Gustafsson IB, Storlien LH; KANWU Study. Substituting dietary saturated for monounsaturated fat impairs insulin sensitivity in healthy men and women: The KANWU Study. Diabetologia. 2001 Mar;44(3):312-319.

Reviewed by Susan Weiner, R.D., M.S., C.D.E., C.D.N. 07/10



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Last Modified Date: June 19, 2013

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