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Making Sense of the Dairy Debate

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dairy products on table

Do the recent controversy about full-fat dairy foods vs. low-fat or non-fat dairy leave you scratching your head? Let us provide a bit of clarification when you find yourself in the supermarket’s dairy section.

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) recommend reducing saturated fat to 10 percent of calories or less. American College of Cardiology (ACC) and American Heart Association (AHA) give an even more strict recommendation, limiting saturated fat to 5-6 percent of daily calorie needs.

The rationale for daily saturated fat limitations has been based on the paradigm of saturated fat possibly raising your LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, resulting in the subsequent increased risk of coronary heart disease, with a higher LDL.

Because 65 to 70 percent of dairy fat is saturated, with 400 different fatty acids in dairy fat itself, the National Dairy Council (NDC) argues that dairy fat is unique and complex.

The NDC has pooled together research into what are called “Science Summaries.” This research suggests that dairy foods have a neutral or beneficial association with reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and lower blood pressure in adults, regardless of the fat content. The NDC also suggests that this complexity of dairy fat may help explain the link between food consumption and neutral or lower risk of cardiovascular disease are independent of saturated fat content. This research is still an ongoing controversial topic. 

Dairy foods contribute significantly toward meeting under-consumed nutrient needs, including calcium, vitamin D and potassium. Other nutrients found in dairy are protein, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin B 12, riboflavin and choline.

The DGA recommends three daily servings of low-fat or non-fat dairy foods for those nine years of age and older. Currently, Americans average less than two servings of dairy per day. It is suggested to consume at least three servings of low or non-fat dairy choices per day, or some full-fat dairy options that fall within the recommended acceptable ranges of overall saturated fat intake.

If you do add some full-fat dairy as a way to get closer to three dairy servings per day, be aware of the higher caloric content as referenced in the table. Remember to adjust total daily calorie intake as needed to stay within your acceptable calorie range.

Refer to the table below for dairy products and their varying fat content, with the corresponding amount of saturated fat and calories in each. 

*Standard serving sizes:
•    Milk = 8 fluid ounces
•    Cottage cheese = ½ cup
•    Cheese = 1 ounce
•    Yogurt = 1 cup

To schedule a one-on-one consultation or learn more about Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services, visit or call 972.560.2655.

Article provided by Cynthanne Duryea, RDN, LD.