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Low Fat Versus Full Fat Milk for Toddlers — Which is Better?

Every time I go to the grocery store, I pause for a minute before the dairy case. What kind of milk do I buy? Low fat or full fat milk? Which is better for June, age 2?

For the longest, I’ve selected the full fat milk, which — call me a wild child — goes against the guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association, both of which recommend switching kids over to low-fat or skim milk after the age of two. Studies have shown that kids who drink low-fat milk as part of a reduced-saturated-fat diet had lower concentrations of LDL cholesterol, which can lay the groundwork for heart disease as an adult. And it’s never too early to think about our future health, right?

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But low fat milk just doesn’t taste that great. I actually make a point of never consuming low fat/fat-free anything out of a belief that those claims induce people to eat more of that stuff. Experiments have shown that “low fat” or “fat free” labeling cause consumers to grossly underestimate the amount of calories it contains and eat substantially more. (This helps explain the explosion in rates of obesity during the height of “fat free” labeling in the 1990s.) It’s called the “health halo effect,” and Cornell researcher Brian Wansink, Ph.D., and others have done interesting studies on it.

Plus I think — and I’m certainly no scientist — that consuming whole fat food (I’m not talking about processed double stuff cookies here!) signals to the brain you’re satiated and full in fewer bites, in a way that “low fat” pretzels, “low fat” cheese and skim milk could never satisfy.

Turns out there may be something to this. A new study of more than 10,0000 preschoolers in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, a sister publication of the prestigious British Medical Journal, finds that low fat milk is associated with higher weight in kids.

Admittedly, the link is a bit tenuous. As the linked story above points out, it could be that parents who buy low fat milk for their children do it as a weight management strategy for kids who are already overweight. Nor did the researchers have a glimpse into the number and quality of calories the children consumed outside of the study.

As for me, I’m going to keep buying full fat milk. It’s rich and creamy and tastes like a milkshake. When I drink it, I don’t feel compelled to keep noshing. My whole family prefers it.  As long as I’m not giving June more than a couple small glasses of fatty milk per day, it fits within the framework of a healthy diet.

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