Recommendation Refresh: Two percent milk is now a Dietitians Choice

January 4, 2018
| Created by Hannah Langley, MS, RDN, CD

Harmons dietitians have decided to add 2% milk and dairy products to our list of Dietitians Choice items in addition to the fat-free and 1% options we’ve always allowed.

Our team of registered dietitians is always working hard to stay up to date on the latest nutrition science. For this reason, we have updated the nutrition recommendations for products in our dairy coolers.

First, a little bit of history to set the stage.

In the not-so-distant past, Americans were told to limit fat, especially saturated fat. We started throwing out our egg yolks and started buying skim milk and fat-free cookies. In other words, the low-fat craze of the 1990s resulted in many Americans lowering their fat intake. But when you take one thing out, especially filling and delicious fat, you are going to feel hungry and will need something to replace those calories. For many of us, we replaced fat with refined carbohydrates such as white bread, crackers, and added sugar. As you might have heard, this didn’t help us improve our health and unfortunately, rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease continued to rise.

Alternatively, let’s say that instead of replacing fat with refined carbohydrates, you replace it with unsaturated fat found in nuts, avocado, olive oil, and oily fish. This eating pattern has been linked to health benefits and longer life expectancies, as we have seen through decades of research on the Mediterranean diet.

Finally, it’s important to point out, that despite the high-saturated fat diet craze of our current decade (think Keto and Paleo), low and moderate fat diets can be very healthy. If you take the extra fat out of your diet and replace those calories with calories from unrefined carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains (also known as the Ornish and DASH diets) you will in fact have an extremely nutritious diet.

So why talk about fat in milk if low-fat diets can be healthy?

Over the past decade or so, there has been an increase in research regarding saturated fat in dairy. More consistently, the research is showing that the saturated fat that comes specifically from dairy products may not be as harmful for health as once thought.

As the media reported and sensationalized this research (think about the Time Magazine “Eat Butter” cover), the popularity of high-fat diets has soared. These diets are typically high in all types of fat, including saturated fat. This has caused confusion about whether eating saturated fat is good for you.

This is What We Know

Low-fat diets can be good, saturated fat from dairy may not be so bad — so what’s a conscious eater to do? Before you run for the butter and ice cream, remember the bulk of our research still says that limiting saturated fat is good for health. It’s unlikely that adding full-fat dairy to an otherwise healthy, balanced diet will make anyone healthier, and there’s no research suggesting that it will.

Aside from fat and calories, whole and skim milk contain roughly the same package of nutrition. In one cup, both pack 30 percent of an adult’s daily calcium needs, 25 percent of daily needs for Vitamin D (when fortified), eight grams of protein, and similar amounts of sugar, making both full and non-fat dairy nutritious options. If you enjoy full-fat dairy, know that these products contain more calories, and you may need to balance that elsewhere in your diet.

Another consideration is the fact the fat is filling. If higher fat dairy keeps you fuller longer, and can help you consume fewer calories overall, maybe more fat in dairy is a good pick for you. However, if you’re what we call a “volume eater” and prefer consuming larger volumes of food and beverages, lower fat dairy may be a better choice since it contains fewer calories by volume.

Finally, sensible dietary advice (including ours here at Harmons) recommends consuming a variety of mostly plant based foods for optimal health. Healthy diets can — but don’t always — include dairy foods. And, though dairy fat might not be as detrimental as we once thought, there are plenty of other fats with more proven health benefits, like olive oil, avocados, and nuts and seeds, which all provide vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients along with their healthy fats.


When the tags roll out, you will see that 2% milk is now Dietitians Choice, in addition to skim and 1% milks. In the yogurt coolers, you will notice options with a little more fat and a little less sugar.

We know that when you add something to the diet (saturated fat in this case) something else will need to be replaced in order to maintain balance. For this reason, we have simultaneously decreased the amount of added sugar that we allow in dairy products.

Please note that Dietitians Choice was created to help the average Utahn choose nutritious foods. That being said, you should always meet with your dietitian if you have specific health conditions. Your personal nutrition recommendations may not be the same as those for the average Utahn.

If you can’t get enough, here are more tips for navigating the dairy section:

Choose milk with the lowest fat percentage that satisfies you, and helps you consume less overall. (p.s. chocolate milk is a great choice after a long workout, but choose unsweetened milk the rest of the time.)
Enjoy cheese, in sensible portions. We recommend eating cheese strategically, like a small amount of feta cheese on top of a salad, a sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan on soups, or a bit of sharp cheddar with an apple for a snack. For the average person, about an ounce (or less) of cheese per day is a reasonable amount.
Use butter sparingly. Most of the time, choose plant-based oils that contain mostly unsaturated fats, such as olive and canola.
Save ice cream and other dairy-based desserts for special occasions, since they contain lots of sugar and calories in a small serving, without the same nutrition profile of milk.