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The full-fat milk renaissance fuelled by Gen Z – and science



The full-fat milk renaissance fuelled by Gen Z – and science

These national guidelines were introduced in the UK in 1983, following studies which suggested saturated fat is the chief villain when it comes to obesity and heart disease. Over the ensuing seven decades, randomised trials and meta-analyses have repeatedly questioned the merits of a low-fat diet – but it has been enshrined in American and British health guidance, and in our national psyche. 

“As scientists dug deeper into the effects of fat on health, it became clear that full-fat dairy doesn’t have the negative effects on health we once thought. But because it takes a long time for official recommendations to change, full-fat dairy is still, wrongly, in the dog house,” says Spector. 

At least, it is for some people. Those aged 18 to 35 are forming their own conclusions, thanks, yes, to TikTok and – for those closer to 35 – scientists like Spector. Where their parents once counted calories and cut back on fat, they now focus on whole foods and gut bacteria; low-fat products – which are by definition more processed than their full-fat alternatives – have no place. 

Indeed, of the reasons cited in Waitrose’s survey for switching to full-fat products, the most common were flavour, and concerns about hidden sugars in more processed lower fat foods. In the survey, where respondents could select all reasons that applied to them, 40 per cent cited flavour, 40 per cent concerns around more processed alternatives and 21 per cent said they were no longer counting calories, another health measure that has been called into question in recent years. 

A protest against processed foods

“For the past few years the biggest trend has been alternatives to dairy milk such as soya or almond milk, which attracted not just vegan customers but those wanting a ‘healthier option’, but over the past year we’ve noticed that more and more customers are choosing whole milk,” says Waitrose’s milk buyer Rachel Arlidge. “This change is driven by people becoming more focused on their gut health and looking to add more whole foods into their diets.”

Organic milk and dairy producer Yeo Valley agrees: it has found sales of low-fat and fat-free yogurt are declining year on year, a trend which “reflects consumers’ growing recognition that minimally processed foods are more in line with the nutrients our bodies have spent thousands of years consuming”, says brand manager Beth Katuszka. Though our understanding of gut health is still in its infancy, what we know so far suggests increasing our consumption of whole foods and reducing our consumption of ultra-processed foods makes sense. 

“Low-fat versions of products tend to include a range of ingredients to make up for the loss of flavour and texture once the fat is removed. These often include emulsifiers, sugars, starches and other artificial ingredients [which are] likely less healthy than the fats you’ve removed,” says Spector. 

The Predict study conducted by his nutritional programme Zoe – the largest in-depth nutritional research programme in the world – suggests ultra-processed foods like these are less healthy for the gut microbiome, whereas whole or minimally processed foods, particularly fermented, probiotic dairy like live yogurt, artisan cheese (the processing of industrial cheese destroys the more beneficial bacteria) and kefir have a beneficial effect. 

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