Why Low-Fat Milk and Yogurt are a Really Bad Idea

Most mainstream dietary advice recommends low-fat or non-fat dairy. But a growing number of experts argue that it’s far healthier to eat and drink whole dairy products, with all the fat left in.

Dairy foods contain roughly 50 to 60 percent saturated fat, and conventional thinking is that saturated fat is bad for your heart. This idea has been thoroughly refuted as false. It’s a mistaken interpretation of the science. In a 2010 analysis,1 scientists said:

“…There is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of [coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease].”

More recently, research presented at the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) in Vienna, Austria, found that eating full-fat dairy products such as whole milk, cream, cheese, and butter, reduces your risk of developing diabetes.

Full-Fat Dairy Associated with Lower Risk of Diabetes

The study included nearly 27,000 people between the ages of 45-74 who were followed for 14 years.

As reported in The Telegraph,2 those who ate eight portions of full-fat dairy products a day cut their risk of diabetes by nearly 25 percent, compared to those who ate fewer portions. One serving counted as:

  • 200 milliliters (ml) of milk or yogurt
  • 20 grams (g) of cheese
  • 25 grams of cream
  • 7 grams of butter

Also, consuming 30 ml of cream or 180 ml of high-fat yoghurt daily reduced the risk of diabetes by 15 percent and 20 percent respectively, compared to those who ate none. According to lead author Dr. Ulrika Ericson of the Lund University Diabetes Center in Malmö, Sweden:3

“Our observations may contribute to clarifying previous findings regarding dietary fats and their food sources in relation to type 2 diabetes.

The decreased risk at high intakes of high-fat dairy products, but not of low-fat dairy products, indicate that dairy fat, at least partly, explains observed protective associations between dairy intake and type 2 diabetes…

Our findings suggest, that in contrast to animal fats in general, fats specific to dairy products may have a role in prevention of type 2 diabetes.”

In 2010, a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine4 proposed that it’s the palmitoleic acid, which occurs naturally in full-fat dairy products, that protects against insulin resistance and diabetes. People who consumed full-fat dairy had higher levels of trans-palmitoleate in their blood, and this translated to a two-thirds lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to people with lower levels.

Other Research Showing Full-Fat Dairy Is Good for You

As I’ll discuss below, I firmly believe that pasteurized dairy products are best avoided. Unfortunately, research on raw dairy—which is always full-fat—are few and far between, so I’m going to refer to studies using pasteurized dairy for the sake of showing that the full-fat versions are the better choice.

Besides lowering your risk for diabetes, previous studies have also shown that consuming full-fat dairy may help reduce your risk of:

  • Cancer:Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a type of fat found naturally in cow’s milk, significantly lowers the risk of cancer. In one study,5 those who ate at least four servings of high-fat dairy foods each day had a 41 percent lower risk of bowel cancer than those who ate less than one. Each increment of two servings of dairy products reduced a woman’s colon cancer risk by 13 percent.
  • Weight: Women who ate at least one serving of full-fat dairy a day gained 30 percent less weight over a nine-year period than women who ate only low-fat (or no) dairy products.6
  • Heart Disease: People who ate the most full-fat dairy were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease, according to a 16-year study7 of Australian adults.

More People Starting to Recognize That Butter Is Better

More and more people are starting to realize the fallacy of the low-fat myth. As noted by NPR,8 in 1992, 44 percent of household cooks surveyed reported being “concerned about the amount of cholesterol in their food.” Today, that number has dropped down to 27 percent.

Other countries have also switched over from margarine to butter in ever-increasing numbers. According to dairy economist Brian Gould, American butter export has grown from zero to just over 10 percent of the market since the early 2000s.

Keep in mind that butter’s nutritional value depends on how the cows are raised, as the fatty acid composition of butterfat varies according to the animal’s diet. The very best-quality butter is raw (unpasteurized) from grass-pastured cows, preferably certified organic. (One option is to make your own butter9 from raw milk.)

The next best is pasteurized butter from grass-fed or pastured organic cows, followed by regular pasteurized butter common in supermarkets. Even the latter two are healthier choices by orders of magnitude than margarines or spreads. Avoid “Monsanto Butter,” made from cows fed almost entirely genetically engineered grains. This includes Land O’Lakes and Alta Dena.

The Many Health Benefits of Grass-Fed Butter

Other research backs up the suggestion that butter is a health food that offers both short-term and long-term benefits for your health. One study10 found that fat levels in your blood are actually lower after eating a meal rich in butter than after eating one rich in olive oil, canola oil, or flaxseed oil.

The scientists’ main explanation is that about 20 percent of butterfat consists of short- and medium-chain fatty acids, which are used right away for quick energy and therefore don’t contribute to fat levels in your blood. Other oils (canola, flax, etc.) contain only long-chain fatty acids, which are more readily stored as fat.

What this means is that a significant portion of the butter you consume is used immediately for energy—similar to a carbohydrate. But, unlike a carbohydrate, it doesn’t adversely affect your insulin and leptin levels.

What’s the Big Deal about Raw Dairy?

While the featured research focused on the fat content of the dairy, I also want to point out that the issue of pasteurization is another important consideration. Raw milk from organically raised grass-fed cows is far superior in terms of health benefits compared to pasteurized milk. Pasteurization destroys enzymes, diminishes vitamins, denatures milk proteins, destroys vitamin B12 and vitamin B6, kills beneficial bacteria, and actually promotes the growth of pathogens. Many of the enzymes that are destroyed in this process are needed for digestion. As a result, drinking pasteurized milk can tax your pancreas and promote disease—particularly allergies.

A number of studies have also demonstrated the superior safety of raw milk compared to pasteurized. Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of foodborne illnesses in the US are actually linked to factory farmed and highly processed foods, not raw foods. For example, late last year Chobani Greek yoghurt was recalled following reports of gastrointestinal illness.12 The yogurt, which is pasteurized and not raw, was found to be contaminated with a fungus called Murcor circinelloides.

Unfortunately, despite overwhelming evidence of safety and health benefits, several US states have outright banned the sale of raw milk for fear of contamination. That’s in sharp contrast to Europe, where some nations even sell it in vending machines13… But there’s really no need to fret about the safety of raw milk, provided it comes from organically raised, pastured cows. Research by Dr. Ted Beals,14 MD, featured in the summer 2011 issue of Wise Traditions, shows that you are actually about 35,000 times more likely to get sick from other foods (most of which are processed) than you are from raw milk.

You can easily ascertain the quality of grass-fed milk, butter, and yoghurt by its color. The carotenoids in the plants cows eat on pasture gives grass-fed products a more yellow-orange cast. When cows are raised on dried grass or hay, opposed to fresh-growing grass, you end up with a whiter product, which is an indication of reduced carotenoid and antioxidant content. Raw milk yogurt is also very thick and creamy, compared to pasteurized commercial varieties. The same goes for pastured eggs, which can be ascertained by their deep orange yolk. CAFO chickens, which never go outdoors, and are fed grains rather than bugs and insects, produce eggs with pale yellow yolks.

Where to Find Raw Milk

There are several resources out there to help you locate raw milk and other dairy products, and the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund provides a state-by-state review of raw milk laws, in case you don’t already know what your state’s rules are.

In many states, you can make a private agreement with a dairy farmer, called a herdshare, which entitle you to the benefits of owning a “share” of a cow, such as a certain amount of milk each week. If you simply cannot obtain raw milk, for whatever reason, you have a couple of options that are likely to be better than drinking conventional pasteurized and homogenized milk from confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

Some food US stores have started selling lightly pasteurized and non-homogenized organic milk. If your local store doesn’t carry it yet, you can ask them to do so. As a last resort, you could opt for organic pasteurized milk. At least, you’ll avoid many of the detriments of CAFO dairy that way—including antibiotics, recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), and other drugs. You’ll also avoid a source of genetically engineered organisms (GMOs) and glyphosate, as CAFO cattle are typically fed genetically engineered grains.

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