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Full-fat milk raises good cholesterol levels

For decades, skimmed or semi-skimmed milk has been hailed as a healthier option.

But full-fat milk may be better for the heart, according to new research.

A team at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark has found it boosts levels of ‘good’ High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol in the bloodstream. 

Study participants’ low density lipoprotein (LDL) or ‘bad’ cholesterol levels did not differ significantly between the two types of milk.

High cholesterol is associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease, strokes and vascular diseases. It is particularly dangerous as it often goes undiagnosed and therefore untreated.

Good cholesterol has a positive effect by carrying away bad cholesterol from the arteries and back to the liver where it is broken down and passed from the body.

Previous studies have shown full fat dairy is also linked with lower risks of diabetes.  

Experts have found full-fat milk raises levels of good cholesterol which helps to reduce your heart disease risk (stock image)


Many people have been put off whole milk because of its fat content, but whole full-fat milk is not actually a high-fat food, a food writer says.

Joanna Blythman, who is an award-winning investigative journalist, addressed this myth in a previous Mail Online story.

She said: ‘Generally, anything over 20 per cent is deemed high fat, but cows’ milk usually only contains between 3.7 per cent and 5 per cent fat per 100 ml – even if it is made with richer cows’ milk, such as Jersey cows’ milk. 

‘This compares with 48 per cent for truly high-fat foods, such as double cream.

‘Semi-skimmed and skimmed cows’ milk contain 1-1.5 per cent and 0.1 per cent fat respectively, so unless you drink gallons of the stuff, switching to semi-skimmed or skimmed is unlikely to make any great impact on your fat intake. 

‘Furthermore, skimmed and semi-skimmed cows’ milk is also less nutritious than whole milk. That’s because the cream contains the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K – important, among other things, for strengthening immunity to infections, neutralising the effects of damaging free radicals and keeping bones healthy.’ 

The study authors say their findings add weight to the notion that full fat milk is no worse than low fat and may even be healthier.

Their report stated: ‘Dietary guidelines have for decades recommended choosing low-fat dairy products due to the high content of saturated fat in dairy known to increase blood concentration of LDL cholesterol .

‘But studies show no association between overall dairy intake and risk of cardiovascular disease and even point to an inverse association with type 2 diabetes.

‘Our findings suggest whole milk might be considered a part of a healthy diet among the healthy population.’

How the research was carried out 

Scientists gave volunteers either 500ml per day of either skimmed milk or whole milk for three weeks, and then repeating the test with the other type of milk.

The study was randomised so that some participants started with skimmed milk whereas others started with the whole milk first.

Cholesterol tests were taken to measure how the different types of milk affected blood lipids such as LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol. 

In total 18 healthy adults took part in the study and all but one completed it. 

Experts have long recommended switching to skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, as well as other low-fat dairy products, to prevent your arteries becoming clogged, raising the risk of a heart attack or stroke. 

As a result, sales of low-fat dairy products have rocketed in recent years.

In 2016, the same team found eating low-fat cheese did not lower cholesterol, reduce blood pressure or help your waistline.

Volunteers who eat a daily portion of regular fat-cheese, or a low-calorie option, for three months saw little or no difference in heart disease risk by the end of the experiment.

The study was published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 


Plant-based diets really do lower cholesterol, according to a review of nearly 50 studies.

Vegetarians generally eat more greens, fruits and nuts which means they have a lower intake of saturated fat, researchers found.

These foods are naturally rich in components such as soluble fibre, soy protein, and plant sterols (a cholesterol found in plants), all of which lower cholesterol. 

The research, led by Dr Yoko Yokoyama, from Keio University in Fujisawa, found vegetarians had 29.2 milligrams less of total cholesterol per decilitre (one tenth of a litre) than meat-eaters. 

Vegetarian diets lower cholesterol as they result in lower intake of saturated fat, increased intake of plant foods such as vegetables, fruits and nuts (stock image)

Vegetarian diets lower cholesterol as they result in lower intake of saturated fat, increased intake of plant foods such as vegetables, fruits and nuts (stock image)

For the review, researchers took ‘vegetarian diets’ to mean a diet that includes eating meat products less than once every month. 

For meat-eaters following a vegetarian diet could lower cholesterol by 12.5 milligrams per decilitre.  

‘Those [individuals] who have followed vegetarian dietary patterns for longer periods may have healthier body compositions as well as better adherence to a vegetarian diet, both of which may have an effect on blood lipids’, researchers wrote in the paper published in the journal Nutrition Reviews.


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