A walk down the dairy aisle may be confusing for some consumers who aren’t sure what is healthiest for their dietary needs. Leading medical experts have conflicting and inconsistent recommendations for what kind of milk Americans should be drinking, and it’s in part because of the lack of evidence pointing a clear path toward a healthier future. This winter the U.S. Dietary Guidelines committee will roll out a new set of finalized recommendations for the American people to live, or rather, eat by.

The experts may retract what they’ve been saying all along, because recent research has shown consistently that nutrient-dense foods are healthier than the low-calorie alternatives. One cup of whole milk provides 150 calories along with 8 grams of fat (5 grams of saturated fat). For decades the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans have recommended swapping whole milk for 1 percent low-fat milk because it’s only 100 calories and 2.5 grams of fat; or nonfat milk, which is only 80 calories with 0.5 grams of fat. One cup of 2 percent reduced-fat milk delivers 122 calories and 5 grams of fat (3 grams of saturated fat).

There has been such a controversial concern over what type of milk Americans should be consuming because experts aren’t 100 percent sure if saturated fats contribute to heart disease. According to The Heart Foundation, heart disease is the number one leading cause of death in men and women, with 787,000 people dying each year in the United States. Making the right recommendation to cut or keep whole milk as a part of a healthy diet is no doubt a reasonable concern for experts.

"If we are going to make recommendations to the public about what to eat, we should be pretty darn sure they’re right and won't cause harm," cardiologist Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, the dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts University, said according to The Washington Post. "There's no evidence that the reduction of saturated fats should be a priority."

Americans take the recommendations pretty seriously. When the guidelines said to steer clear of whole milk, sales drastically declined and replaced the milk with soaring low-fat dairy purchases. Whole milk was even banned from government-run school lunch programs, despite a lack of evidence indicating children would benefit from low-fat dairy products.

Consuming saturated fats may raise levels of bad cholesterol, which leads to plaque buildup, high blood pressure, and ultimately an increased risk for heart disease. At least, that’s what experts think is going on. Limiting or completely cutting saturated fats from one’s diet has never been proven by a long-term, double blind, peer reviewed study, one of the best scientific research methods used for basing recommendations on. In recent years, however, large scale clinical trials have actually provided enough evidence to lead recommendations in the opposite direction.

In one study, researchers observed what happened when middle-aged men consumed high-fat milk, butter, and cream over a period of 12 years and compared them to a group of men who never or rarely consumed high-fat dairy products. It turns out that those who enjoyed the high-fat dairy products were “significantly” less likely to become obese.

"We continue to see more and more data coming out [finding that] consumption of whole-milk dairy products is associated with reduced body fat," the Executive Vice President of the National Dairy Council Greg Miller told NPR. "There may be bioactive 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."

Aside from not understanding the role of saturated fats in the body, milk recommendations continue to give a variety of inconsistent advice. The Harvard School of Public Health recommends limiting milk and dairy products to one or two servings a day, while the International Food Information Council new dietary fats recommendations indicate three servings of milk a day or an equivalent dairy product is ideal. But according to Harvard’s experts, there are healthier ways to get enough vitamin D (such as supplementing) because “milk and cheese can contain a lot of saturated fat.”

The confusion continues as Americans wait to hear what the new recommendations tell them to do in the coming months.