That's according to two new studies that found those who enjoyed a relatively high intake of whole-fat milk, butter and cream were less likely to be obese than those who stuck to a more moderate dairy fat diet or rarely ate high-fat dairy.
One study published by Swedish researchers in the Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care, tracked the eating habits and weight of middle-aged men over a period of 12 years, while the second study, published in the European Journal of Nutrition, mined the results of 16 other studies for clues to the relationship between dairy intake and obesity. Both studies came to similar conclusions: more dairy fat encouraged improved weight control.
Both studies adjusted for other important dietary and health factors, such as fruit and vegetable intake, smoking, alcohol consumption, exercise, age, as well as socioeconomic variables.
"We continue to see more and more data coming out [finding that] consumption of whole-milk dairy products is associated with reduced body fat," Greg Miller, executive vice president of the National Dairy Council, told NPR.
Scientists aren't exactly sure why higher intake of dairy fat is associated with lower rates of obesity, but some surmise that fuller fats help eaters feel fuller and suppress the urge to overeat.
Or, as Miller added: "There may be bio-active substances in the milk fat that may be altering our metabolism in a way that helps us utilize the fat and burn it for energy, rather than storing it in our bodies."
Previous studies have found that this puzzling pattern holds true for children.
And while other studies have suggested a link between high-fat dairy and heart disease, these latest studies found no consistent association between the two. They did find, however -- as previous research has -- that eating low-fat yogurt lowers rates of diabetes risk, whereas high-fat dairy had no correlation.
The bioactive properties of dairy fat varies from product to product, scientists say. As such, more studies are needed to understand exactly what's going in the bodies of high-fat dairy users that helps them keep the weight off.
[Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care]
[European Journal of Nutrition]