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nutrition

Full-fat milk a friend, not a foe

  • January 31, 2019
  • 5 min read

Full-fat dairy is a friend, not a foe according to on-going scientific research.

Growing scientific evidence is showing that dairy fat is not the bad guy and that dairy products like milk, cheese, and yoghurt – including full-fat varieties – may even be protective for heart disease and associated risk factors like blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and obesity.

What we are now seeing is scientific opinion shifting to the fact moderate amounts of milk, cheese and yoghurt have a neutral or even positive effect on heart health and can even help with weight loss by helping to maintain muscle mass while losing body fat.

Nutritionist Mindy Wigzell, Head of Nutrition for Fonterra

Dairy products - cheese, milk and yoghurt

As the science evolves, many researchers are beginning to re-draw the boundaries of nutritional knowledge, shifting away from the old thinking that saturated fats should be avoided and that the rush to ‘low-fat everything’ may have been misguided.

Experts may not have counted on the fact that people would compensate for the missing fat andload up on refined carbohydrates, which may have a worse impact on health.

Nutritionist Mindy Wigzell, Head of Nutrition for Fonterra, says the science surrounding attitudes towards fats has been too simplistic in the past.

The only ingredient in milk is… milk. It’s a natural, nutritious food which, as the science surrounding it develops more depth, is becoming better understood.

Nutritionist Mindy Wigzell, Head of Nutrition for Fonterra

The shift back to dairy is also being driven by consumers’ hunger for natural food, she says.

While dietary guidelines can be slow to adapt to new evidence, consumers are accessing the latest research online and making their own mind up, just as they do with many other lifestyle and purchase decisions.

The impact of that can be seen in the reboot of butter with demand outstripping supply as sales ofmargarine and polyunsaturated alternatives continue to fall. For example, Unilever, once the world’s dominant seller of margarine and other spreads, is getting out of that market.

The science

The turnaround in thinking on fat started to gain traction in 2010 when the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition analysed 21 studies that looked at the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. It found, “there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease.”

Since then, there has been a steady stream of research that has come to similar conclusions. A 2012 review of 50 studies on diet and weight gain concluded that “plenty of fibre-rich foods and dairy products, and less refined grains, meat and sugar-rich foods and drinks were associated with less weight gain in prospective cohort studies.”

Little boy with yoghurt in his face
The first results of the international Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study were released in late 2017 after the eating habits of 135,000 adults in 18 countries, across a range of socio-economic circumstances, were tracked for more than seven years on average.

Among the findings, it found participants with the highest carbohydrate intake (77% of daily calories) were 28% more likely to have died than those with the lowest carbohydrate intake (46% of calories).

In August 2018, the European Society of Cardiology called for officials to revise public health guidelines on dairy consumption. This followed a study of 24,825 participants of the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 1999 to 2010. 

 

Why do we need fats?

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Reasons why we need fats

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The outcome of these ongoing findings combined with the connected society in which we now live has enabled consumers to make their own minds up about what they eat, when and how.

Maciej Banach, Professor

Peas and butter in a saucepan

Butter is back

The new research on fat has coincided with the resurgence in popularity of butter with consumers across the world. Butter’s rise has seen a significant fall in sales of margarine and other spreads made from poly and mono-unsaturated fats. In the United Kingdom, sales of spreads and margarine fell by 30% between 2012 and 2017.

During the same time across the 28 countries in the European Union, annual butter consumption per capita rose from 4.02kg to 4.31kg.

The Harvard Medical School explained the butter vs margarine situation like this: “The truth is, there never was any good evidence that using margarine instead of butter cut the chances of having a heart attack or developing heart disease. Making the switch was a well-intentioned guess, given that margarine had less saturated fat than butter, but it overlooked the dangers of trans fats.”

 

What are dietary fats?

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Dietary fats' structure

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Blackberrys in yoghurt

And it's more than butter that's back

Sales of full-fat milk and yoghurt have also been on the rise across the world. In the United States, according to the US Department of Agriculture, whole milk now accounts for 40% of liquid milk sales, a 7% rise since 2012.  In Australia, sales of full fat have surged nearly 10% over the 12 months to May 2018.

Ian Halliday, Dairy Australia’s managing director, told Australian senators in mid-2018, “We are seeing, on a global basis, a move back towards full-fat dairy products.”

Full-fat yoghurt has also seen a steady rise. Surveys conducted by New Nutrition Business, a global strategic and market insights company on the food, nutrition and health sectors, found 42% of Australians and Americans believe full-fat yoghurt is a source of healthy fat while 39% of Australians and 36% of Americans believe cheese is a healthy fat.

Packing a nutritious punch

The key to dairy is that it’s natural and consumers across the world are becoming more interested in less processed foods. The generous dose of protein and vitamins aside, milk contains around 4% fat which carries with it fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A—an essential nutrient for vision, immune function, and cell growth.

Another factor in fat’s resurgence and the demand for dairy coincides with another food trend: low-carb diets.  As consumers increasingly adopt low-carb diets, they tend to consume more protein and fat—both key components of dairy.

 

Reasons to maintain a healthy dose of fat in your diet.

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Benefits of fats

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Nutrition

You & Dairy - Fat Reborn

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