Home Front Page Whole milk and fats to be considered by USDA for new guidelines

Whole milk and fats to be considered by USDA for new guidelines

For a long time people avoided whole milk in favor of low-fat and fat-free milk. Recent research suggests, however, that the fats being avoided are actually good for the body.

Pingpongwill at en.wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0

Turns out that fat might not be as bad for you as previously thought. The USDA is now grappling with whether or not to update their thinking and guidelines to reflect recent research that suggests that high fat diets are no worse than low fat ones.

The USDA is due to update its dietary guidelines this year, and now pressure is mounting for the agency to endorse, or at least back off of criticism of fats.

Whole milk has become one of the rallying points. Long spurned in favor of low-fat milks, it turns out that the fats might actually be good for the body.

Confused? Hasn’t that debate been settled? Whole milk is bad because it contains a lot of fat, low fat milk is good because, well, it is low in fat. Recent evidence suggests, however, that some fats are actually good for the body.

Why Whole Milk has been looked down upon

If the recently conducted research turns out to be correct, and whole milk is, in fact, better for you than lower fat milk, this calls into question some long standing assumptions. For one, it is assumed that fats themselves are bad for the body. Part of this is simple semantics, people who have high body fat are unhealthy, so won’t eating fat make people fatter?

The body breaks down and digests things, however, which means that it’s not so straightforward. Some fats can actually be good for you in the right amounts. Saturated fats, which whole milk is high in, can help people absorb vitamins and are used in a wide range of bodily functions, such as building cell membranes, enabling muscle movement, and assisting with blood clotting.

You could call it a big fat surprise

Debates over food guidelines are pretty much the norm, but the current debate over fats came to the forefront when Scientist Nina Teicholz published an article in BMJ. Teicholz has also written a book called  “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet.”

Ms. Teicholz’s work takes exception to many of the beliefs long held by the USDA. Teicholz challenged the government’s views on fats, and particularly saturated fats, finding that even when people reduced fat intake, it had little effect on their body. She also criticized the USDA’s lack of appreciation for low carb diets.

Recent studies have found that people who drank whole milk were no more likely to suffer from heart disease, or develop type II diabetes. Oddly, researchers found that whole milk might actually be inversely associated with obesity.

So will the government back whole milk? The USDA releases dietary guidelines every five years. These guidelines are among the most respected and closely followed in the world, helping to set global perceptions on what counts as healthy foods.


For a review of the latest research into saturated fats, check this article by Healthy But Smart. It cites 20 scientific papers and reviews 5 popular claims such as the benefits of saturated fats for brain health and risk of stroke.