Effect of whole milk compared with skimmed milk on fasting blood lipids in healthy adults: a 3-week randomized crossover study

Published online:



Dietary guidelines have for decades recommended choosing low-fat dairy products due to the high content of saturated fat in dairy known to increase blood concentration of LDL cholesterol. However, meta-analyses including observational studies show no association between overall dairy intake and risk of cardiovascular disease and even point to an inverse association with type 2 diabetes. The objective was to compare the effects of whole milk (3.5% fat) with skimmed milk (0.1% fat) on fasting serum blood lipids, insulin, and plasma glucose in healthy subjects.


A randomized, controlled 2 × 3-week crossover dietary intervention in 18 healthy adults randomly assigned to a sequence of treatments consisting of 0.5 L/d of whole milk and skimmed milk as part of their habitual diet. A total of 17 subjects completed the intervention.


Whole milk increased HDL cholesterol concentrations significantly compared to skimmed milk (P < 0.05). There were no significant differences between whole milk and skimmed milk in effects on total and LDL cholesterol, triacylglycerol, insulin, and glucose concentrations.


Intake of 0.5 L/d of whole milk did not adversely affect fasting blood lipids, glucose, or insulin compared to skimmed milk. Moreover, intake of whole milk increased HDL cholesterol concentration compared to skimmed milk. These findings suggest that if the higher energy content is taken into account, whole milk might be considered a part of a healthy diet among the normocholesterolemic population.

  • Subscribe to European Journal of Clinical Nutrition for full access:



Additional access options:

Already a subscriber?  Log in  now or  Register  for online access.


  1. 1

    Nordic Council of Ministers. Nordic Nutrition Recommendations 2012: integrating nutrition and physical activity. Nord. 2014;1: 5.

  2. 2

    U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 2015. Available at: (accessed 20 Aug 2017)

  3. 3

    Chen M, Li Y, Sun Q, Pan A, Manson JE, Rexrode KM, et al. Dairy fat and risk of cardiovascular disease in 3 cohorts of US adults. Am J Clin Nutr 2016;104:1209–17.

  4. 4

    Drouin-Chartier J-P, Brassard D, Tessier-Grenier M, Côté JA, Labonté M-È, Desroches S, et al. Systematic review of the association between dairy product consumption and risk of cardiovascular-related clinical outcomes. Adv Nutr An Int Rev J 2016;7:1026–40.

  5. 5

    de Goede J, Geleijnse JM, Ding EL, Soedamah-Muthu SS. Effect of cheese consumption on blood lipids: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Nutr Rev 2015;73:259–75.

  6. 6

    Raziani F, Tholstrup T, Kristensen MD, Svanegaard ML, Ritz C, Astrup A, et al. High intake of regular-fat cheese compared with reduced-fat cheese does not affect LDL cholesterol or risk markers of the metabolic syndrome: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr 2016;104:973–81.

  7. 7

    Fonolla J, Lopez-Huertas E, Machado FJ, Molina D, Alvarez I, Marmol E, et al. Milk enriched with ‘healthy fatty acids’ improves cardiovascular risk markers and nutritional status in human volunteers. Nutrition 2009;25:408–14.

  8. 8

    Steinmetz KA, Childs MT, Stimson C, Kushi LH, McGovern PG, Potter JD, et al. Effect of consumption of whole milk and skim milk on blood lipid profiles in healthy men. Am J Clin Nutr 1994;59:612–8.

  9. 9

    Soerensen KV, Thorning TK, Astrup A, Kristensen M, Lorenzen JK. Effect of dairy calcium from cheese and milk on fecal fat excretion, blood lipids, and appetite in young men. Am J Clin Nutr 2014;99:984–91.

  10. 10

    Maersk M, Belza A, Stodkilde-Jorgensen H, Ringgaard S, Chabanova E, Thomsen H, et al. Sucrose-sweetened beverages increase fat storage in the liver, muscle, and visceral fat depot: a 6-mo randomized intervention study. Am J Clin Nutr 2012;95:283–9.

  11. 11

    Romeo J, Warnberg J, Garcia-Marmol E, Rodriguez-Rodriguez M, Diaz LE, Gomez-Martinez S, et al. Daily consumption of milk enriched with fish oil, oleic acid, minerals and vitamins reduces cell adhesion molecules in healthy children. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis 2011;21:113–20.

  12. 12

    Barr SI, McCarron DA, Heaney RP, Dawson-Hughes B, Berga SL, Stern JS, et al. Effects of increased consumption of fluid milk on energy and nutrient intake, body weight, and cardiovascular risk factors in healthy older adults. J Am Diet Assoc 2000;100:810–7.

  13. 13

    Hodson L, Skeaff CM, Fielding BA. Fatty acid composition of adipose tissue and blood in humans and its use as a biomarker of dietary intake. Prog Lipid Res 2008;47:348–80.

  14. 14

    Engel S, Tholstrup T. Butter increased total and LDL cholesterol compared with olive oil but resulted in higher HDL cholesterol compared with a habitual diet. Am J Clin Nutr 2015;102:309–15.

  15. 15

    Matthews DR, Hosker JP, Rudenski AS, Naylor BA, Treacher DF, Turner RC. Homeostasis model assessment: insulin resistance and beta-cell function from fasting plasma glucose and insulin concentrations in man. Diabetologia 1985;28:412–9.

  16. 16

    Mensink RP, Zock PL, Kester ADM, Katan MB. Effects of dietary fatty acids and carbohydrates on the ratio of serum total to HDL cholesterol and on serum lipids and apolipoproteins: a meta-analysis of 60 controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr 2003;77:1146–55.

  17. 17

    Kitamura A, Iso H, Naito Y, Iida M, Konishi M, Folsom AR, et al. High-density lipoprotein cholesterol and premature coronary heart disease in urban Japanese men. Circulation 1994;89:2533–9.

  18. 18

    Gordon DJ, Probstfield JL, Garrison RJ, Neaton JD, Castelli WP, Knoke JD, et al. High-density lipoprotein cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. Four prospective American studies. Circulation 1989;79:8–15.

  19. 19

    Voight BF, Peloso GM, Orho-Melander M, Frikke-Schmidt R, Barbalic M, Jensen MK, et al. Plasma HDL cholesterol and risk of myocardial infarction: a mendelian randomisation study. Lancet 2012;380:572–80.

  20. 20

    Holmes MV, Asselbergs FW, Palmer TM, Drenos F, Lanktree MB, Nelson CP, et al. Mendelian randomization of blood lipids for coronary heart disease. Eur Heart J 2015;36:539–50.

  21. 21

    Haase CL, Tybjaerg-Hansen A, Qayyum AA, Schou J, Nordestgaard BG, Frikke-Schmidt R. LCAT, HDL cholesterol and ischemic cardiovascular disease: a Mendelian randomization study of HDL cholesterol in 54,500 individuals. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2012;97:E248–56.

  22. 22

    Brunzell JD, Davidson M, Furberg CD, Goldberg RB, Howard BV, Stein JH, et al. Lipoprotein management in patients with cardiometabolic risk. J Am Coll Cardiol 2008;51:1512–24.

  23. 23

    Rosqvist F, Smedman A, Lindmark-Mansson H, Paulsson M, Petrus P, Straniero S, et al. Potential role of milk fat globule membrane in modulating plasma lipoproteins, gene expression, and cholesterol metabolism in humans: a randomized study. Am J Clin Nutr 2015;102:20–30.

  24. 24

    Chung RWS, Kamili A, Tandy S, Weir JM, Gaire R, Wong G, et al. Dietary sphingomyelin lowers hepatic lipid levels and inhibits intestinal cholesterol absorption in high-fat-fed mice. PLoS ONE 2013;8:e55949.

Download references


We thank our biomedical laboratory technician Hanne Lysdal Petersen for technical assistance. The authors’ responsibilities were as follows—SE and TT: designed the study; SE and ME: conducted the study; SE: performed the statistical analysis, wrote the manuscript, and had primary responsibility for the final content of the manuscript; TT: supplied valuable knowledge and scientific consultation throughout the study; and all authors: read and approved the final manuscript. The study was supported by the Danish Dairy Research Foundation. The milk was donated by Arla Foods, Denmark. The sponsors had no influence on the execution of the study, the analysis and interpretation of data, or the manuscripts and its conclusions. The trial is registered at: (NCT03052582).

Author information


  1. Faculty of Science, Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports, University of Copenhagen, Rolighedsvej 30, DK-1958, Frederiksberg, Denmark

    • Sara Engel
    • , Mie Elhauge
    •  & Tine Tholstrup


  1. Search for Sara Engel in:

  2. Search for Mie Elhauge in:

  3. Search for Tine Tholstrup in:

Conflict of interest

TT has received research grants from Arla Foods, Denmark; The Danish Dairy Research Foundation; and the Dairy Research Industry, Rosemont, IL. The remaining authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sara Engel.