If you’re loading up on fat-free Greek yogurt and cottage cheese to lose weight, you might want to reconsider: A growing body of research suggests that full-fat dairy products can help you maintain a healthy weight better than the skim variety. How could that be? Here are three major reasons fat-free dairy could be adding—not slashing—extra pounds.
1. Research says more fat could keep you thin.
Seems counterintuitive, but it’s true: The latest science says that high-fat dairy foods are no worse—and maybe even better—than low-fat dairy. It’s true: Researchers recently analyzed 16 previously published studies on dairy fat and obesity. In 11 of those studies, people who ate more full-fat dairy were leaner and gained less weight over time than people who consumed less. In the other five studies, eating more dairy fat showed no link to weight gain and obesity whatsoever. There may be a number of reasons why: Certain fatty acids in dairy fat could boost metabolism, or there might be some kind beneficial interplay between dairy fat and gut bacteria. It may also have to do with what dairy replaces: Habitually choosing full-fat dairy instead of starchy, sugary foods, like muffins or doughnuts, can result in weight loss.
2. Fat-free yogurt could make you binge on carbs.
Eating fat-free yogurt could have you reaching for those chips. In a study of 120,000 people published last year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, those who consumed more non-fat and low-fat dairy ate significantly more carbs overall, while people who ate more full-fat dairy ate fewer carbs. Why? Because non-fat dairy products are lower in calories, our bodies might seek out those calories from other sources, like carbs. And if those carbs are coming from unhealthy sources, such as oversized bagels and sugary candy, you could gain weight.
3. Full-fat is more filling.
Eating fat makes you feel full and satisfied, so eating only non-fat dairy could leave you hungrier and more prone to overeating later on. There’s a reason low-fat diets have been shown to be ineffective: They leave people hungry, and the plans tend to contain more sugar and carbs than moderate- to high-fat diets. True, the fat you’re getting from dairy is saturated, the type many experts still say we should limit. But your average cup of full-fat yogurt isn’t a fat bomb: Most popular brands of full-fat Greek yogurt have only 4 to 5 g of saturated fat per 6-oz serving. Compare that to a 6-oz serving of ground beef, which has 10 g of saturated fat.
The bottom line: Don’t pick fat-free solely because you think it’ll help you lose weight. If you prefer the taste of low-fat products and are already at a healthy weight, it’s certainly OK to keep eating them. But if you’ve been craving the richness of full-fat dairy, swapping it into your healthy eating pattern shouldn’t hurt—and could even be beneficial.
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