Should you switch to full-fat dairy? Here's what a dietitian says about impact on heart health, acne & more

Full-fat dairy could actually be better for weight loss than low-fat options.

Welcome to Ask A Dietitian. It's a series where Yahoo Canada digs into food trends and popular nutrition questions with registered dietitian Abbey Sharp.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

Abbey Sharp gives us the scoop on full fat dairy, in the Ask A Dietitian series. (via Canva)
Abbey Sharp gives us the scoop on full fat dairy, in the Ask A Dietitian series. (via Canva)

Have you ever wondered if the low-fat dairy craze might be missing the mark? While Canadian health guidelines still push for low-fat options, a growing number of dietitians are now recommending full-fat dairy instead.

Surprised? You're not alone. It turns out that rich, creamy milk, yogurt and cheese might not be the dietary villain we once thought. In fact, full-fat dairy could even have some health benefits that make it worth adding to your diet (if you've cut it out).

Yahoo Canada spoke with registered dietitian Abbey Sharp on what Canadians should know about full-fat dairy.

Full-fat dairy has been shown to offer several health benefits, especially when it comes to weight management and metabolic health. "Recently, more research is showing that full-fat dairy may actually, in some ways, reduce the risk of becoming overweight or obese, simply because it's a lot more satiating," Sharp explained.

Full-fat dairy not only tastes better and has a more satisfying mouthfeel, but it reduces the need for added sugars, which are less satiating than fat.

Moreover, full-fat dairy has been found to buffer the blood sugar response, making it less likely to be associated with acne compared to fat-free dairy, Sharp added. This aspect can benefit people with conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). "There's a good amount of research now linking low or non-fat dairy to increased risk of anovulatory infertility, but full-fat dairy actually reduced that risk," the dietitian noted.

Healthy breakfast with Fresh greek yogurt on background
Fermented dairy like yogurt contains unique fatty acid compounds that are beneficial for our health. (Getty)

Historically, full-fat dairy was viewed as "bad" for our heart health because of its saturated fat content. Current guidelines in Canada still reflect this stance, while recent studies are challenging it.

"We definitely used to think that full-fat dairy was just straight up bad for health," Sharp acknowledged. "But recent research has found no association, or even a beneficial effect, of full-fat dairy on cardiometabolic health."

This shift can be credited to a focus on whole foods rather than isolated nutrients, Sharp explained. "Full-fat dairy, specifically, contains unique fatty acid compounds like conjugated linoleic acid, butyrate and gangliosides that may actually offer some protective effects for health," she said. Fermented dairy products like yogurt are a good source of these nutrients.

Both full-fat and fat-free dairy are rich in essential nutrients, including protein, calcium, vitamin D and potassium. The main difference is in the fat content. "Full-fat dairy has those unique fatty acids," the dietitian pointed out, "and the fat helps enhance the absorption of a lot of fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K."

This enhanced absorption means that consuming full-fat dairy can make these vitamins more bioavailable, meaning you're getting more of their benefits. For example, vitamin D is better absorbed when consumed with some fat, which can improve bone health and immune function, Sharp explained.

Full-fat dairy products often taste and feel better than low-fat or no-fat options. (Getty)
Full-fat dairy products often taste and feel better than low-fat or no-fat options. (Getty)

Full-fat dairy can be beneficial for anyone, but especially people with insulin resistance (type 2 diabetes and PCOS, for example). "Full-fat dairy helps to buffer the insulin response," Sharp said, adding this buffering effect can help with better blood sugar control.

I recommend full fat for especially for folks who are looking to improve their blood sugars and fertility.Abbey Sharp

For those with PCOS, full-fat dairy is recommended to reduce the risk of anovulatory infertility (absence of ovulation). "It's one of our best recommendations for folks with PCOS," she claimed. Additionally, full-fat dairy is not associated with acne to the same extent as low-fat options, which is a common concern among people with PCOS.

Close up shot of woman holding a bottle of organic fresh milk in supermarket. The expert says full-fat dairy can be a great addition to a healthy diet. (Getty)
The expert says full-fat dairy can be a great addition to a healthy diet. (Getty)

Given the benefits, dietitian Sharp said you could consider a switch to full-fat dairy. "Most people will tell you that fat-free cheese doesn't taste as good as real cheese, and full-fat yogurt is going to taste better than plain 0 per cent yogurt," she said. This better taste and mouthfeel of full-fat dairy often mean that people don't need to add as much sugar to achieve a satisfying flavor.

To balance the intake of full-fat dairy within a healthy diet, she recommended focusing on fermented dairy products like yogurt. These can provide additional benefits, from probiotics and higher protein content, which are great for satiety and weight management.

Reducing other forms of saturated fat that have stronger associations with poor health is also recommended, "most notably red meat and a lot of those processed meat products like bacon, sausages, etc.," Sharp said.