You've probably heard the Dietary Guidelines for Americans' recommendation to limit saturated fat to less than 10 percent of your daily caloric intake. For many, this has meant cutting back on cheese, ice cream and butter, and switching from whole milk to skim milk (a watery, less flavorful version of whole milk) [source: CDC].
Avoiding fats in dairy was supposed to translate into healthier hearts and slimmer waistlines. The idea that saturated fat increased the risk of cardiovascular disease became popular in the 1950s. (One cup of whole milk has 4.6 grams of saturated fat, 22 percent of the current Recommended Daily Allowance.) However, emerging research finds dairy fat isn't bad for our hearts or our weight. As counterintuitive as it seems, the opposite could be true. Consuming full-fat whole milk has been linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes, as well as lower blood pressure [sources: Giles-Smith, Teicholz].
Whole milk seems to fight obesity, too. A study published in the "Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care" found that if full-fat milk, butter and cream were part of the diets of middle-aged men, they were far less likely to become obese over a 12-year period compared with men who didn't consume high-fat dairy. A meta-analysis of 16 studies, published in the "European Journal of Nutrition," reported the consumption of high-fat dairy was linked to a lower risk of obesity. Similar findings have been reported for children [source: Aubrey].
The benefits lie in whole milk's complex and beneficial fats, which include more than 400 different fatty acids mixed in a healthful milieu of protein, calcium and other nutrients. In addition, scientists suspect whole milk may contain a yet-unnamed substance that alters the metabolism to burn fat for energy, instead of storing it [sources: Giles-Smith, Teicholz].