The Dangers of Low-Fat Dairy

October 12, 2017
Low-fat milk - Dr. Axe

There’s no shortage of low-fat dairy options in your grocery store. And we’ve certainly been programmed to reach for those low-fat and fat-free cheeses, yogurts and skim milk options over the years. But the question is, are these fat-deprived products really better for us?

According to a growing number of studies, no.

Low-Fat Dairy Dangers

We need fat to survive. The right, healthy fat. Still, dietary recommendations continue to discourage Americans from reaching for full-fat milk and other dairy products. A 2016 study published in Circulation is a strong reminder that nutritional policymakers need to reconsider their stance against full-fat dairy. Looking at more than 3,300 people, researchers found that people with the highest byproducts of full-dairy products enjoyed a 46 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to people who ate less full-fat dairy. (1)

That’s just one of the low-fat diet risks science is starting to point out. Another 2016 study published in The American Journal of Nutrition makes another strong case for eating full-fat dairy. (2) Researchers studied more than 18,000 women and found the ones who consumed more full-fat dairy were 8 percent less likely to be overweight or obese compared to the low-fat dairy group.

One theory is that eating full-fat dairy helps people feel fuller longer. Aside from that, low-fat and fat-free dairy products are often laden with added sugar, a potent risk factor for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and even cancer.


Guide to milk - Dr. Axe


Watch Out for Conventional Dairy

The health of the animal and the processing methods of milk can categorize dairy as either one of the healthier foods in the world or one of the worst. If you’re consuming milk, yogurt, butter and cheese produced from conventionally raised cows that are fed a steady stream of antibiotics, your dairy intake may be playing a role in antibiotic resistance. Not just for you, either — also for your family and everyone else in the community. Conventional dairy may also increase your risk of being overweight and even of getting cancer.

The pasteurization process that most conventional dairy products undergo destroys essential enzymes and probiotics, as well as alters vital amino acids. Nearly all commercial milk is also homogenized, a process that oxidizes fats and creates free radicals. Free radicals are unstable oxygen molecules that are known to weaken the immune system and result in intestinal inflammation, leading to leaky gut.

In 2013, scientists published a study showing that milk from organic, grass-fed cows contains much higher levels of brain- and heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids, along with lower levels of inflammatory fats typically found in milk from grain-fed, conventionally raised cows. (3)

My Go-To Dairy Advice

• Raw, fermented dairy from organic, grass-fed goats or sheep is my gold-standard choice, although it can sometimes be hard to find. (You may need to order kefir grains to ferment sheep or goat milk.)
• If you aren’t in the market for sheep or goat milk, look for plant-based alternatives like coconut milk or almond milk. (Look for products without carrageenan.)
• If you’re sticking with cow’s milk, always choose organic, milk from pasture-raised cows to avoid chemicals in milk. If possible, look for organic milk from Jersey or Guernsey cow breeds. They haven’t gone through a genetic mutation that leads to an inflammatory protein called A1 beta‐casein winding up in the milk.

Read Next: Processed Foods & Rx Medicines Cause Weight Gain 

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  1. Mark on

    It’s my understanding that organic milk is also useless since it is ultra-pasteurized. Thus, killing off all benefits. Retailers love this stuff because the shelf life is up to 8 weeks and significantly reduces spoilage write downs.

  2. B Swen on

    I think, just knowing where you food comes from would help with your choice. In knowing where your food comes from, you would also learn the processes the producer uses AND what they use to feed, doctor, manage, the animal and their operation. You mention that conventional milk contains traces of several items. However, it is pretty widely known that if there are traces of those things in the milk, the dairy cannot sell it……so, it makes me wonder where this information comes from.

    Thanks for the information!!!

  3. Donna on

    After switching to full fat dairy, yogurt, and cheese, my cholesterol shot through the roof in less than 2 years. Dr wants me to take a statin, I’m not doing that. I’m no longer eating full fat anything and will eventually stop eating any dairy. You still have to watch cholesterol levels.

    • Tereza on

      Good for you. I’m sick and tired of these doctors not telling the truth. You want healthy milk? Stick to plant milks, they have everything you need :carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats without hormones, antibiotics, vieus, bacteria and cholesterol. I adopted a whole food plant based lifestyle one year ago, I lost 60 pounds, feel great, my cholesterol is 138 and have more energy now at 44 than when I was 25. Go plant powder!

  4. Lisa on

    I am so sick of these articles that state that commercial dairy cows are fed “a constant stream of antibiotics”! I worked in the dairy industry for many years & was at a different farm every day. The most common reason a cow might receive antibiotics is when she develops mastitis–an infection in the udders. There is a withdrawal period after administering the drug usually about 72 hours until the drug is considered cleared from the cow’s system and then her milk can again be included with the milk from the rest of the herd. Each and every time the milk is sent to the processing plant, a sample is taken from the tank. The tests that check for antibiotics are very sensitive. I knew of an instance that the milk from one cow whose milk was mistakenly included with the rest of the milk in the bulk tank made the sample from the tank test positive. This also meant that the entire load of milk had to be discarded and the farm w/ the positive antibiotic test received an hefty fine. Antibiotics are also very expensive. When I worked in the dairy industry years ago, I dealt w/ 2 farms that were organic. Let me tell you from personal experience I would NEVER buy milk or any other dairy products from those farms as the cows were very dirty & they did not feel it was necessary to wash the teats before milking! Now I am sure that those farms were not representative of all organic farms (at least i hope they weren’t) but it is very misleading to make people who have not had the experience that I have had believe that organic farms care for their animals better than commercial dairy farms. Happy, comfortable, contented cows live longer & produce better. A cow that lives longer is more profitable. If farmers can’t pay their their bills we will all starve!

  5. Paul on

    To the lady who thought eating full fat dairy raised her cholesterol too high, I would suggest you read any physiology text book. There is absolutely no metabolic pathway by which fats that are eaten can produce or raise cholesterol; only carbohydrates can do that, and the same goes for triglycerides.
    Americans as a nation over the last fifty years have lowered their fat intake by 35%, and as a result have experienced a 300% increase in heart and cardiovascular disease.

    • Jude on

      you *might* experience a slightly higher cholesterol reading while your body resets itself…(for me, it took about 6 months of dietary changes to reduce cholesterol)…AND it really depends on your WHOLE diet, not just full fat dairy. If you have full fat dairy and have not restricted or changed your carbs that could be a problem…

      My cholesterol is in healthy ranges now with a full-fat diet that includes butter, grass-fed/finished meats, eggs, plenty of vegetables, raw nuts and seeds…with very infrequent grains to rare intake of baked goods (crackers, bread, chips, etc.)

  6. Kathryn on

    Are you married? Ha! Kidding. REALLY enjoy everything you send out here. Only problem is soooo hard to get anyone to believe. I have 9 siblings and they are regular DR. People, as in do whatever their DRs. Say. But the word is getting out there they just do t have the time to read it all even my sons who have Lon g work days. Anyway please keep learning and guiding us. I lost daughter to cancer and I am still a sponge to soak it all up. BUt really are you married!!!!!!!!!!! Hav e good day Kathryn

  7. Polly on

    I believe Dr. Axe has been a proponent of drinking rice, almond or coconut milk and kefir as opposed to cow milk, and cow milk products. Not sure why you, Dr. Axe are posting an article about cow milk now….

    • Charity on

      That would be the A1, A2 protein in cows milk..
      A2 is not linked to cancer. And lets remember the generations of people for the last several hundred years living without cancer, the problem is the over-processing of our ‘food’ not the products consumed for years.

  8. Mary Ann on

    Thinking of milk and what’s healthy….in 2013 the FDA asked for comments on a Dairy Industry petition to change the “standard of identity” for milk and 17 other dairy products to include no-calorie flavoring ingredients such as aspartame and sucralose. This means the product label might include, for example, “non-nutritive sweetener or non-nutritive sweetener such as sugar,” but would not need to be more specific. The concern was that parents might buy chocolate-flavored milk or other products for children without knowing they contained artificial ingredients. I thought the FDA approved the petition, but perhaps I’m mistaken, because I can’t find information on how this was resolved. Does anyone know?

    • Melissa Tregilgas on

      I believe it was approved, but I don’t think that it has to be on the label either. Possibly as “natural flavors”. Either way, certified organic and grass fed avoid that problem.

  9. Melissa Tregilgas on

    Hi Dr. Axe,

    My husband and I run a small raw milk herdshare in California, and although I heartily agree with this article and the infographic included in it, I have to point out a couple points that could use updating.

    2) The countries (like America) that consume the most dairy also consume mostly pasteurized, heavily processed dairy, and, very importantly, low fat dairy. The problem is not the dairy products, per se, but the quality and kind of dairy products.

    3) There was a list of produce items that provide calcium, but no comparison to raw milk. 8 ounces of raw milk (one glass) provides around 300mg of calcium, balanced nicely with phosphorus for proper absorption into the body. The fat in the milk is necessary for full utilization of the calcium, so making sure you drink whole milk is very important, as the article states. But it would have been nice to see how much calcium is in raw milk. 300mg is quite a bit! Almost a third of the average daily calcium requirement for an adult, and absolutely prep-free (unless pouting yourself a cup counts as “prep”).

    My Go To Dairy Advice) This one has a big uh-oh in it, and it is very common right now among moderately informed dairy consumers. 80% of Guernsey cows do not express the A1 milk protein, so you are correct there. If you want milk that is A2, a herd of Guernseys is your best bet (although increasingly rare, as they are a dying breed). But, the Jersey breed is about 50% A1A1. And, those Jerseys that do express it tend to produce even more of the protein than an A1A1 Holstein does! So going with Jersey milk is not a safe bet. Actually, Holsteins can also be A2A2 (about 50% of the breed is, like Jerseys), so it really varies cow to cow. The best way to find out is to get your milk from a farm that tests their cows and breeds for A2A2. The “A2 Milk” in the stores is heavily processed and pasteurized, so please avoid it.

    Melissa Tregilgas
    Free Hand Farm

    • Paula Youmell on

      Thanks for pointing that out Melissa. Raw milk is not linked to osteoporosis because it is alkaline, not acidic. Among other issues.

    • JT on

      I am so curious, as it was totally new to me, what is this A1, A2, A1A1, A2A2 you refer to? I would love to know more!! Thanks so much!

      • Charity on

        Cows genetically produce only two forms of a specific protein in the milk. They are the A1 and A2 forms. If you remember basic genetics, that means that a cow can be A1A1, producing only A1 protien; A1A2, producing 50% of each; or A2A2, producing only the A2 protein. The A2 protein is currently recognized as superior to the A1 protein, in regards to several health benefits (or lack there of) of human consumption of cow’s milk. Dr Axe was referring to the shift in the genetics of the majority of cows in this country when farmers were selectively breeding for specific desirable traits in their cattle, and unknowingly, this resulted in a shift to the A1 protein at the same time. Happens all the time when we don’t understand every single bit of the genome (which we never will). Occasionally selecting for a desirable trait, will come with an undesirable trait that we are unaware of until later. The ability to test cows to see which protein they produce is relatively new in this country, and there is a gradual shift in the dairy industry to change to A2 genetics. Currently, there are a very limited number of bulls that are A2A2, and this makes the shift difficult, as there are several other important traits that must be considered to maintain healthy, productive cattle. (Healthy, productive, long living cattle are the farmer’s first concern) That being said, it is a slow process, and there are some farms further ahead than others. So finding a farmer who is aware of the difference and is currently changing their breeding program is your best bet for A2 milk.

    • Charity on

      Well said, I was also raised on a farm and I love hearing other farmers intelligently and politely join the conversation. I would also like to point out that the steroids referred to in the milk would be from steroid hormones that all species have, and all species of mammal (including humans, goats and sheep) secrete into their milk. There are no more steroids in cows milk than are naturally meant to be there. The “added hormone” rBST is a PROTIEN hormone, and completely species specific, therefore having absolutely no affect on humans as we lack the appropriate receptors for it. Well I do not personally agree with farms using BST, it is for reasons having nothing to do with the quality of the milk produced.

  10. Dan on

    I know several farmers in my area and they do not use or over use antibiotics. Half of what this article says is bull. I teach at a local hospital and deal with folks with eating disorders. A grat deal of what is written here is as about as valuable as hear-say in a court.

    • Bonnie Olcott on

      I agree. I read a long letter from a milk farmer and she said that any cow that is given antibiotics for whatever reason is milked separately and the milk is dumped. It is not put into the tank with other milk. I think she said it takes about a month or two before the cow is free of the antibiotic and is hooked up again. Milk is tested before it is put into the tank truck. Any antibiotic in the tanker ruins the whole tank and the farmer is penalized the cost of the truck. There is NO milk in the store that has any trace of antibiotic.

  11. Angela Green Hudson on

    I used to consume raw goats milk and kefir, raw cows milk, and raw cheeses. Then I went to a Homeopath that stated that every one of these animals have some form of parasite which can be passed through the milk. Every one. She had the equipment to test and she regularly tested the dairy and found parasites every time. So she said it is not worth it. Also there are parasites that can survive freezing. Especially today where animals are NOT being managed correctly. In the old days, the farmers used pure gum spirits of turpentine, etc, for parasites, but today it is modern veterinary medicine that the animals receive. Who knows what is really in the milk? I agree that commercial dairy is about the worst thing humans can consume, but at this point I have come to the conclusion that raw dairy may not be safe either.

  12. Isabel on

    ReaGood morning Dr.Axe, my name is Isabel…………I been having ur e-mail for few months. TKS. For them. I am 73 years old , Right now my health is not to good. Have Arthritis, Fibromyalgia. Been visiting different Quiropractics. In 8 months been in 3 different one not a help…Stop medication for sleep, have INMSOGNIA, for more than 30 years. Try help me. Ois, Teas, well frustrate. Sleeping 4-5 hours. I feel 85 years old lady. Now thinking let go . QUIROPRACTIC . Have anxiety,depression………..TKS for ur time. Great weekend. This is FlORIDA ?

  13. Shonagh on

    Actually, raw milk from grass-fed guernsey or Jersey cows is every bit as fantastically healthy as sheep or goat’s milk. I raised two teenage girls on raw milk and they are not only vital and strong, their teeth are PERFECT. Raw milk contains both calcium and phosphorus, which will deliver strong bones to growing children. I speak from my own experience. Dentist, George Heard, wrote a book in 1942 titled, ‘Man Versus Toothache’ where he discussed the town of Hereford, TX, which was known as “the town without a toothache’ because its inhabitants consumed fresh, whole raw milk from grass-fed cows. He noticed that his patients that drank raw milk, buttermilk or clabbered milk had no cavities and strong teeth. I shake my head when I read how much healthier folks were before the arrival of industrial foods. What a striking difference. An excellent book on subject of nutrition and teeth is, ‘Cure Tooth Decay’ by Ramiel Nagel.

  14. Ron Pijlman on

    Doctors, like Dr Axe, should not advise people to consume dairy products what so ever, they are harmfull, go to “Forks over Knifes” to read the truth AND the proof !
    The meat industry as the dairy industry are lying to you, the only health in these products are their profit.

  15. Lisa on

    I was told by my functional dr to eat Greek yogurt and I’ve been diagnosed with leaky gut and Candida “ is this going to make me worse I have been on a protocol for almost three months and advise would be appreciated !


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