Health and Fitness

Still Think Low-Fat Dairy is the “Healthy Choice”? Think Again!

Cheryl Swansburg MS, RD, LMLC
Published On
August 26, 2016

Studies show that full-fat dairy not only doesn't contribute to obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, it may even help prevent them.

When I’m at work or in my daily routine, I am amazed of the lack of progress in the publics perception of what constitutes a healthy diet when it comes to fat consumption. There is still a large percent of people I communicate with that still believes that whole dairy is unhealthy and whole grains are nutritional powerhouses.

It is astonishing to see the lack of knowledge today on the fats! Take a trip to StarBucks and notice that inevitably most people are ordering a non-fat latté or some other coffee drink with either skim milk or soy milk added to it. Try to get a yogurt parfait that is not fat free. It’s almost impossible.  To find whole fat yogurt is rare except in health food stores and even then they are in a small portion to the plethora of low fat choices. This confirms the publics opinion on whole fat is not the norm.  What makes this so ironic is while they are ordering low fat or skim milk they are substituting it with high sugars and whip creams that are the real culprits for coronary heart disease and obesity!

So why is cream, butter, and whole-milk products are better for you than non-fat dairy?

I can’t help cringing when I hear people ask for skim/non-fat milk. Why? Because although we’ve been brainwashed for decades to believe that dairy fat is harmful, recent research overwhelmingly suggests the opposite. Consider the following:

There has been overwhelming scientific data done in the last decade supporting that a  full-fat dairy was either inversely associated with obesity and metabolic disease, or not associated with them at all. In other words, people who ate the most high-fat dairy foods had the lowest risk for obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.  

Whole foods create *Higher circulating levels of trans-palmitoleic acid (a fatty acid found in dairy fat) which are associated with healthier levels of blood cholesterol, inflammatory markers, insulin levels, and insulin sensitivity.  Studies are showing that people with the highest levels of trans-palmitoleic acid in their blood had a 60% lower risk of developing diabetes than those with the lowest levels.

How full-fat (but not non-fat) dairy may prevent disease

Some compounds in high-fat dairy products—such as butyrate, phytanic acid, trans palmitoleic acid, and conjugated linoleic acid—have been shown to have beneficial effects.

Butyrate provides energy to the cells lining the colon, inhibits inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, and may prevent colonic bacteria from entering the bloodstream. In fact, butyrate’s anti-inflammatory effect is so strong that a dose of four grams per day for eight weeks induced complete remission in a group of Crohn’s disease patients. (5)

Phytanic acid, one of the fatty acids in dairy fat, has been shown to reduce triglycerides, improve insulin sensitivity, and improve blood-sugar regulation in animal models. In a study of 2,600 U.S. adults, another fatty acid in dairy fat, trans palmitoleic acid, was found to be associated with lower triglycerides, lower fasting insulin, lower blood pressure, and a lower risk of diabetes. (6)

Conjugated linolenic acid (CLA), a natural trans fat found in dairy products, may reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. (7)

Finally, dairy fat is also a good source of fat-soluble vitamins like retinol (active vitamin A) and vitamin K2, which are difficult to obtain elsewhere in the diet.

Should we be consuming dairy products at all?

There’s no question that dairy doesn’t work for everyone. Some people are allergic to or intolerant of the proteins in dairy, or are highly sensitive for lactose. In those cases dairy must be strictly avoided or additional steps must be taken (such as fermenting milk to make kefir or yogurt, which are lower in lactose) to make it tolerable.

But for people who tolerate dairy, my point is that there’s really no reason to choose low-fat or non-fat varieties—and in fact, by doing so you may be reducing or eliminating the benefits you would get from consuming dairy products in the first place!

Not only does it taste better, it has a host of nutritional benefits, it also will help with satiety. 

I do recommend that you try to get organic grass fed beefs and butters and dairies.

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