Jul 23, 2012

Why Dairy is Good for You, Especially the Fat

Just a few decades ago Americans accepted without question the premise that milk straight form the cow was good for us. Many societies today consider whole milk and dairy products vital to their diets. Milk and cheese are often mentioned in the Bible and God even promised he would bring his people the Israelites to a land flowing with milk and honey. As a Christian, I don't believe God would use milk as an example of good things and abundance if it was bad for us. And it goes without saying that the milk and dairy products the Israelites were consuming was not low-fat! As I mention in my nutrition philosophy, a big reason why I believe what I do about what truly constitutes healthy eating is because it goes along with the Bible. Also, common sense should tell us that if our ancestors survived thousands of years on whole milk, animal meat and natural oils, shouldn't we still eat like that today? Why has the human race survived so long if the fat in dairy is really terrible for us? It's a shame people have decided that a perfect food God gave should be considerably altered to be healthy.

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As usual, I want to maintain a balanced perspective, so I'm not going to speak negatively about those who advise against eating dairy. I'm not going to blame the government for promoting that low-fat and fat-free dairy is good for us.  I'm sure somewhere along the way caring individuals really did want to help with America's weight gain, heart disease, and various other health problems, and to them it made sense that dairy fat could be a culprit. But unfortunately I believe these people were wrong. New research, and not just from Nourishing Traditions/Weston A. Price proponents, has found full-fat dairy is not bad for you after all. Unfortunately the word has not gotten out on a large scale, so not only is low-fat and fat-free dairy still promoted and sold, but is is often difficult to find the full-fat versions of certain dairy products. 

Why is dairy and its fat NOT bad for you?

The biggest argument I've heard against eating dairy is, "We are the only mammals on the planet that still consume milk after infancy." While this may be true, this kind of reasoning alone cannot shape a nutrition philosophy. As a Christian, the first thing one should do in seeking truth about any belief, is to see what the Bible has to say about it. 

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As I stated above, dairy is frequently mentioned in the Bible.  Not only that, but in in Mark 7:1-22  (esp. verse 15) and Acts 10:9-16 God declares all things are now "clean" and can be eaten freely (including pork which was previously prohibited.) So as Believers we can know that it is not a sin to consume anything that God has given us to eat. Naturally, however, wisdom and discernment should be used in choosing what foods to put in our bodies, as we are told to care for these "temples" God has given us (1 Corinthians 6:19). With that discernment we should study history and reliable scientific data to decide what is best to be eaten on a regular basis. From my research and my experience with cultures overseas, I have found that in many societies dairy is an important staple, leading to healthy individuals, and in some cases, providing one of the main food sources - like for the Masai in East Africa. The Weston A. Price Foundation online has many fascinating articles on the healthy diets of traditional societies.

But what about the fat? 

As far as I can tell, the main reason people decided dairy fat was bad for you is because it is saturated fat. New research has found (and again, history tells us this) that it is not saturated fat that is causing  many of the health problems modern societies are facing today. 

Popular thought is that saturated fat can lead to heart disease and clog arteriers. In fact, the fatty acids found in artery clogs are mostly unsaturated (74%). During the period of rapid increase of heart disease (1920-1960), American consumption of animal fat declined but consumption of hydrogenated and industrially processed vegetable fats increased dramatically. It was thought to avoid heart disease you should eat margarine instead of butter. But the truth is margarine eaters have twice the rate of heart disease as butter eaters. (Source

Even medical professionals, like Dr. Weil, who do not follow the Nourishing Traditions/Weston A. Price way of thinking when it comes to all foods, are finding that the saturated fat in full-fat dairy is not the health hazard it was once thought.

"A scientific analysis of 21 studies showed 'no significant evidence' that saturated fat in the diet is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease. The 21 studies analyzed included nearly 348,000 participants, most of whom were healthy when they were enrolled. They were followed for five to 23 years, during which 11,000 developed heart disease or had a stroke. Looking back at the dietary information collected from these thousands of participants, the investigators found no difference in the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, or coronary vascular disease between those individuals with the lowest and highest intakes of saturated fat. This goes completely against the conventional medical wisdom of the past 40 years. It now appears that many studies used to support the low-fat recommendation had serious flaws.

In the meantime, as nutritionists have been recommending low-fat foods, consumption of added sweeteners, especially high-fructose corn syrup, has been steadily rising. This may be at least partially due to the fact that low-fat prepared foods are often highly sweetened. A study from Emory University and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published in April, 2010, showed that sweeteners appear to lower levels of HDL ('good') cholesterol and raise triglycerides. Both of these effects increase the risk of heart disease. What's more, through their direct effects on insulin and blood sugar, refined starches and sugars are more likely than saturated fat to be the main dietary cause of coronary heart disease and type-2 diabetes...Given the results of these studies I no longer recommend choosing low-fat dairy products."

(Click here to read the rest of this article "Rethinking Saturated Fat" by Dr. Weil. )

With what the Bible says and the evidence we see from cultures around the world, as well as the new scientific research that is being revealed, I am confident full-fat dairy can be a healthy part of my diet. (Some people do have allergies to lactose and casein, and of course should then avoid dairy.)

Why is dairy and its fat GOOD for you?

Dairy products, from yogurt, to butter, to sour cream, each contain a number of unique nutritional benefits, but the majority of the nutrition in all dairy is found in the fat, specifically the fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids. Dairy fat is the best source of trans-palmitoleic acid which has insulin-sensitizing properties. Instead of unhealthy, or neither good nor bad, dairy - especially the fat - is highly nutritious.

A huge percentage of our bodies is built on fat. Fats, including saturated fats, are the building blocks to our cell membranes and act as carriers for the important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Dietary fats are needed for the conversion of carotene to vitamin A, for mineral absorption, for our hormone synthesis, immune system, inflammatory response and ability to heal, and many other vitial systems. The good fats from meat, eggs, fish, dairy, nuts, and good oils like butter, olive oil and coconut oil, are vital to supplying our bodies with the fuel we need to be robust and healthy. Not having enough of these good fats in our diets can eventually lead to numerous health problems, even if outwardly one appears to be in good health. (Source) (I'll be writing a whole post on healthy fats later.)

Raw milk and dairy is the most nutritious. It is filled with enzymes and natural defenses against disease and bacteria. Though many people are afraid to drink raw milk due to the spread of disease, raw milk in the US, which is produced in very hygienic conditions, is very unlikely to contain dangerous bacteria. (This is a very different story in some places overseas where low-heat pasteurization is very important.) Raw milk also contains lactic-acid producing bacteria that protect it from pathogens, a way God  designed to make it safe for human consumption. Unfortunately not only is raw milk difficult to find, it is often touted as being very dangerous. If you are not able to find raw milk in your area, or are not comfortable drinking it, a good alternative is to get non-homogenized (sometimes called "cream top") milk instead. This milk has been pasteurized at a lower temperature and the cream will still rise to the top of the milk. Whole Foods, EarthFare and Trader Joe's all sell this kind of milk. If you are not able to afford these healthier milk options, then you may want to consider limiting the amount of milk you drink as a beverage. (It goes without saying that organic dairy products from pastured cows is the most nutritious.)

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Culturing dairy,  to create yogurt for example, restores many of the enzymes lost during pasteurization. Cultured dairy should be a part of everyone's diet, but especially those who are not able to get raw milk. These active cultures contain beneficial bacteria and lactic acid. These "good" bacterias help us fight illness and aid in the fullest possible digestion of all food we consume as well as preventing constipation. During the culturing processes lactose (milk sugar) is partially broken down and casein (milk protein) is predigested making these easier to digest, even for those with lactose or casein intolerances. Heavy cream is filled with fat-soluble vitamins, as is sour cream, which also contains enzymes that help us utilize the minerals found in the food we are eating along with the sour cream. Cheese is a concentrated form of most dairy benefits and is an excellent source of calcium and protein. 

Butter is a rich source of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, and contains important trace minerals like magnesium, zinc, chromium, selenium and iodine. The saturated fat in butter actually enhances our immune function, protects the liver from toxins, provides nourishment for the heart in times of stress, gives integrity to our cell membranes, and aids in the proper utilization of omega-3 essential fatty acids. (Source)

Good, natural fats should not be feared for neither health complications nor weight gain. If you are consuming enough good fats your brain will know and you will naturally feel full on less and go longer without feeling hungry. An interesting article from the Weston A. Price Foundation website entitle "Why We Crave" contains this quote:

"Dr. Tom Cowan writes in his book, The Fourfold Path to Healing, that 'Our brain is specifically designed to sense the fat content of our food and to tell us to stop eating when the proper amount of fat has been ingested. When the need for fats and the nutrients they contain is satisfied, we stop eating. The body’s requirement for fats is so great, and the appetite that spurs the body to obtain those fats is so strong, that binge eating is likely to occur if fats are omitted from regular meals.'"

It does make sense that God would have equipped our brains with the ability to know when we have received adequate nourishment. Those who eat diets high in protein with a lot of good fats and vegetables, and fruits and healthy carbohydrates in moderation, find it much easier to maintain a healthy weight. The truth is, even though calorie counting is not something we should have to do if we are eating healthy (especially considering caloric need depends so much on each individual), if you are eating whole foods, like full-fat dairy, you will often end up eating the same amount of calories as you would have if you were trying to be healthy and eat low fat/low calorie foods. 

Why is low-fat and fat-free dairy BAD for you?

With low-fat and fat-free dairy, not only are the essential fatty acids and fat soluble vitamins missing, but other unhealthy ingredients are added to make up for the poorer taste quality. 

Milk that has no fat has been reduced to a cup of  lactose (milk sugar) and casein (milk protein). Lactose and casein are somewhat difficult to digest, which is why many people today have allergies to these things. This same rule applies to low-fat cheese; it's mostly casein. 

If you've ever looked at the ingredient list on low-fat or fat free sour cream you fill find starch (essentially sugar) is one of the main ingredients followed by many other unhealthy additives. Even those who don't necessarily think sour cream is good for you still think low-fat versions are defeating the real purpose of eating healthier. Read this article here for a more detailed look at low fat and fat free sour cream versus the full fat stuff: When Fat-Free Makes No Sense

Processed cheeses and flavored coffee creamers contain emulsifiers, extenders, phosphates and hydrogenated oils, so they really should be avoided.

If you think about it, by simple mathematics having less fat per ounce of dairy, equals more sugar or unhealthy additives. Part of learning to eat healthy is making a lot of things from scratch, consuming packaged foods with short ingredient lists, and simply eating the foods as close to the way God made them as we can.

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Perhaps the biggest problem with the concept that dairy fat is bad for you are the popular substitutes that pervade our food culture and the innumerable items that contain these substitutes. The worst is margarine - the butter substitute - which is a hydrogenated oil. Now, I'm specifically talking about stuff that is labeled "margarine" not just any kind of butter substitute out there, like vegetable oil spreads. These are also very substandard substitutes for butter and should be avoided, but margarine, which is hydrogenated and a trans-fat, is extremely unhealthy. This informative article "Margarine vs Real Butter" could not have said it better.

"Eating margarine (and other trans-fats), not getting enough of the critical healthy essential oils (EFAs), along with high sugar consumption and lack of sufficient protein in our diets has caused an epidemic of disease and ill health in this country and around the world. Margarine plays a key role in our deteriorating health because it is unnatural - our bodies are not designed to use it. A plastics engineer would call margarine “plastic food,” - meaning that margarine’s molecular structure resembles a low-grade plastic...

Margarine contains a tremendous amount of harmful distorted EFAs called trans-fatty acids. Hydrogenation is the chemical addition of hydrogen to another chemical. When applied to oils, the process turns the healthy essential oils into dangerous trans-fatty acids, which are very unhealthy for humans. The process of hydrogenation requires a metal catalyst, like nickel, and is stopped when the margarine looks butter-like, without regard to the unnatural fat by-products, which have been produced. These by-products include trans-fatty acids, lipid peroxides and other potentially toxic compounds. Some large studies have been published, which suggest that ingestion of trans-fatty acids is considered a risk factor for heart disease. In 1956 Lancet published a 16-page article warning physicians of its dangers but few listened...

Trans-fatty acids can block the body’s ability to use healthy Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) in the production of eicosanoids and they lessen the transfer of the life-giving nutrient, oxygen, across cell membranes. Sufficient transfer of oxygen is crucial for cellular health, prevention of cancer, energy, and a healthy immune system....You can also expect vision-related problems when you consume too many trans-fats in your diet. This is because your eyes are supposed to contain healthy EFAs, but are getting the distorted oils instead.

Studies show that the trans-fatty acids we eat do get incorporated into brain cell membranes, including the myelin sheath that insulates neurons. They replace the natural DHA in the membrane, which affects the electrical activity of the neuron. Trans-fatty acid molecules disrupt communication, setting the stage for cellular degeneration and diminished mental performance. This shows that EFA deficiency likely plays a key role in mental and emotional disorders from children to the elderly."

Here is a website that goes into more detail on how margarine is actually made: How is Margarine Made. Shortening is also produced by these same methods. Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils are found in many things, some that even surprised me as I was doing my research. Pre-made baked goods and packaged mixes are filled with them because they are inexpensive and have a long shelf life. Here is a list of things you can purchase at the grocery store or a restaurant that often contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils:

Sweets and carbs: cookies, candy, cakes, donuts, brownies, muffins, croissants, pies, pastries, frosting, non-dairy whipped topping, coffee creamers, ice-cream, some candies, packaged tortillas, biscuits, rolls and bread, microwave popcorn, crackers, some varieties of chips, granola bars, breakfast bars and energy bars, pre-made baking mixes like Bisquick and pancakes.

Meal items: frozen meals and prepared ready-to-eat foods, french fries, pot pies, pizza, breaded foods and breaded vegetables, fast food, and peanut butter.

In our society today it is obviously very difficult to avoid eating hydrogenated fats altogether. But making your meals from scratch and not using margarine or shortening would eliminated the vast majority of these harmful oils. Even the most limited budget can afford real butter. Most people can cut back in a few areas to get coconut oil. Places like Vitacost sell it at the best price I've found anywhere. If in baking you feel you just have to use margarine, please use canola oil instead. Canola oil is also not very good for you (more on that later) but at least it is not hydrogenated. Another solution is just to not eat many sweets or breads period, which is a great way to save money and make the most of a limited budget. 

Enjoy your full-fat dairy guilt free!

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Milk: Use it in baked goods, soups, sauces, and over healthy breakfasts like baked oatmeal. It does not need to be drank as a beverage on a daily basis unless you are able to get raw milk or non-homogenized milk.

Yogurt: Eat yogurt with with breakfast over baked oatmeal or mixed with fruit.  Use it in almost any recipe in place of buttermilk. (Not that buttermilk is bad for you, but I find it is hard to use up a whole quart of buttermilk as its uses are more limited than yogurt.) Use it for homemade salad dressings and healthy snacks. Yogurt is also perfect for grain recipes you soak (to remove the the phytates - read my post on that here). Purchase plain yogurt (or make it yourself like I do), and sweeten it with honey or stevia, or look for yogurt sweetened with natural sweeteners.

Greek Yogurt: This amazing stuff has all the benefits of regular yogurt, but twice the protein. Use it in place of sour cream in any recipe. It's great in vegetable dips - not because sour cream is bad for you, but because Greek yogurt has protein in it so is more nutritious for that reason. It's also great mixed with a heathy sweetener and used as a dip for fruit. 

Be sure to check the labels carefully as regular yogurt and Greek yogurt can be hard to find that are not fat-free or reduced fat. I have begun making my own Greek yogurt from whole milk which saves a lot of money and saves me time from driving far away to the closest store to me that sells full-fat Greek yogurt.

Sour Cream: Add it to vegetables and sauces, use it in cream soups, eat it over baked potatoes, and use it in baked goods and desserts.

Butter: Add to steamed vegetables, use it as a healthy fat in baked goods, add enjoy it guilt-free over properly prepared breads.

Cheese: A wonderful source of protein that can be eaten as a nutritious snack or added to any number of meals.

Cream: Use it as a creamer in coffee, whip it and sweeten it lightly and enjoy guilt-free over (healthy!) desserts. You can even pour it over your bake oatmeal if you like the rich taste. 


  1. Great post, thank you for your research. I have fallen in love with Greek Yogurt! and have milk separating on my counter as I speak so I can get the whey.

  2. I've probably told you about Tabitha and raw milk, but I am still amazed at the difference, so I'll share again :) We were on vacation when she was about 3, she was still drinking about 1/2 cup of milk in the middle of the night. We took some real milk with us, but not enough, so we purchased some, the rest of that week, she drank 4-5 CUPS of pasteurized, homogenized milk...no nutrients left in the stuff! I am so thankful to have a great, inexpensive source for the real deal!

  3. Love the info in this! I'd heard about full fat dairy being better, and use it for the most part, but I wasn't sure why! Thanks for sharing!