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Whole Milk for Whole Health
Are you addicted to nonfat or low-fat dairy? Conventional nutrition has placed low-fat or nonfat milk as healthier than full-fat due to its reduced concentration of saturated fat. However, now that studies show that saturated fat may not be bad for you after all, is there still reason to drink low-fat milk?
According to the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, the American Diabetes Association, and probably your personal doctor, no-fat and low-fat dairy are healthier than full-fat dairy.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) specifically states that dairy should be consumed in low-fat or no-fat form. But recent studies suggest that this popular line of thinking may be entirely wrong.
In fact, recent studies, including a 2014 study published in the European Journal of Nutrition, have found that there are no health benefits to eating no or low-fat dairy and there is actually evidence to support that eating full-fat dairy can keep you leaner.
How does this happen?
When milk was first produced in massive quantities, skim milk was not consumed by humans. Milk bottles were clear so that sellers could show customers how healthy their milk was based on how much fat rose to the top of the jar (homogenized milk came later).
After WWII, when America first became concerned with weight gain, milk manufacturers capitalized on this concern by marketing their non-fat milk as healthy. Marketers promised that drinking lower fat milk (which was previously used for individuals who had trouble digesting fats or as animal feed) would lead to weight loss, which was not based on any scientific research or tests.
Marketers and consumers simply assumed that a lower amount of fat in milk would prevent weight gain. The 1953 Ancel Keys study seemed to back this theory, as his findings stated that countries that eat more saturated fat typically have higher cholesterol levels and an increased risk for heart disease. However, further investigation of this study showed that Keys cherry-picked data that supported his initial assumption.
In fact, cutting out fat is actually making the obesity problem much worse.
The modern diet is low in fat and high in sugar and carbs. Why did this happen? Fatless food tastes bland, which is why many food manufacturers have replaced fat with carbs or sugar. Sugar and carbs are also less expensive to use in large-scale manufacturing.
A 2010 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the replacement of saturated fat with carbs led to increased risk for high cholesterol, obesity, insulin resistance, and other problems.
Based on these factors, the study authors recommended adding fat back into the diet and a greater restriction on carbs and sugar. The study authors stated that America's increase in diabetes is in direct relation to the increased intake of carbs and sugar in the American diet and has nothing to do with saturated fats or full-fat dairy.
The 2014 study published in the European Journal of Nutrition examined the relationship between a person's weight and their fat intake (specifically from dairy products). The study research revealed that individuals who ate full-fat dairy were no more likely to have heart disease, type 2 diabetes, or high cholesterol than individuals who drank lower fat dairy.
In fact, individuals who drank and consumed full-fat dairy were healthier overall and were less likely to be obese.
The researchers stated, “The observational evidence does not support the hypothesis that dairy fat or high-fat dairy foods contribute to obesity or cardiometabolic risk, and suggests that high-fat dairy consumption within typical dietary patterns is inversely associated with obesity risk.”
A 2013 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care found similar results. In this study, researchers examined the effects of full-fat or low-fat dairy on nearly 2000 men over a period of 12 years. The men were divided into low-fat or high-fat dairy groups. The men who ate the highest amount of dairy fat were healthier 12 years later than men who ate less fat. On average, men who ate full-fat dairy weighed about 30 percent less after 12 years than men who ate low or no-fat dairy.
Although the exact reasons why full-fat dairy is healthier is unknown, studies suggest that full-fat dairy can provide the following health benefits:
Full-fat milk has a higher content of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) fat, which reduces the risk for cancer. A study from 2013 published in the Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health found that when study participants ate four servings of high-fat dairy a day for several years, they had a 41 percent reduced risk of developing bowel cancer. Two added servings of full-fat dairy a day could reduce a woman's colon cancer risk by 13 percent.
A 2010 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that study participants who ate the most full-fat dairy were actually less likely to die from cardiovascular disease over a 16-year period. Dairy did not have any effects on increasing the risk for heart disease, but higher dairy intake did reduce study participant's risk of dying from heart disease.
Milk is somewhat high in sugar, which makes it a surprising tool for reducing diabetes risk, but a 2014 study reported at the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) stated that higher intakes of full-fat dairy could cut diabetes risk by 25 percent. Study participants who consumed eight servings of full-fat dairy had the lowest risk of developing type 2 diabetes risk, but even small increased in full-fat dairy intake led to a reduction in diabetes risk. The study authors suggested that there is something in dairy specifically that can reduce diabetes risk, but this particular study did not examine what that specific factor might be.
Did you know that dairy products contain omega-3 fats? We typically think of fish and seafood as containing the highest level of omega-3 fats, but this is largely due to how modern cows are raised. When cows are grass-fed and pasture-raised, their meat and dairy contain high levels of omega-3 fats, but conventional cows have little to know omega-3 fats. The balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fats is vital for maintaining overall health.
Omega-6 fats (found in plant products and vegetable oils) are necessary, but too many omega-6 fats will increase inflammation and raise your risk of developing preventable diseases. Omega-3 fats, on the other hand, fight inflammation and reduce disease risk. In general, the ideal fat balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fats are about 4 to 1.
However, most Americans have a ratio in favor of omega-6 fats, with a ratio of more than 25 to 1 in many cases due to the prolific use of vegetable oils in the modern diet. By adding grass-fed, pasture-raised dairy to your diet regularly, you can correct some of this balance. Additionally, you will be far healthier if you drastically reduce your vegetable oil intake.
Fat should not scare you (unless it is vegetable oil or trans fat). Healthy fats are extremely important for overall health and wellness. In addition to making you healthier, fat is also filling, which makes you less likely to snack all day long.
Current health guidelines recommend eating about 50 percent of your calories as fat calories. This sounds like a lot of fat, but even if you eat 50 percent of calories from fat, you will still be eating mainly vegetables and fruit because they are naturally low-calorie foods. When you remove sugar and carbs from the diet, the calorie levels of the remaining foods on your plate are surprisingly low.
If you have choked down skim milk for most of your life thinking it was healthier, now is a time to celebrate. You can consume full-fat dairy without guilt. If you are used to the taste of skim milk, you may find it difficult to adjust to the taste of full-fat dairy. If you need to, work your way up to full-fat dairy by increasing your fat percentage one percent at a time. Full-fat dairy is only about four percent fat, so it won't take long to convert. When possible, look for raw or non-homogenized milk for the biggest health benefits.
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