The grocery shelves seem to populate weekly with another new milk substitute. Right now, at my local health food grocery store, the non-dairy milk choices include: hemp milk, soy milk, coconut milk, flax milk, almond milk, cashew milk, macadamia milk, oat milk, pea milk, rice milk and even sunflower milk. It’s mind boggling! As we’ve pointed out before though, many of these alternative milks come with added sugars, flavoring, thickeners and processed vegetable oils, among other things—and little actual nutrition.
While some of us cannot tolerate regular dairy milk due to allergies to casein or lactose intolerance, there is still a strong case for why full fat, regular dairy milk may be the healthiest. The trick is of course, to decipher which type of dairy is healthiest. Is it skim milk with all the fat removed, or full fat dairy?
Given the current trend in diets with keto being so popular, I am always shocked and a bit surprised when seemingly well-informed people insist on only consuming low-fat or skim milk products. I thought this ‘anti-fat’ trend had passed, but to many people, fat is still evil and milk fat in the form of whole milk products is still perceived as being bad for your health. In truth, however, quite the contrary.
The United States seems to have some different ideas on fat when it comes to dairy. The French eat plenty of full fat dairy, real butter and cheese, and seem to actually have less incidence of obesity and chronic disease, along with the Swiss, who eat tons of full fat cheese and dairy products. Natives living in the mountains of Eastern Europe routinely live to the ripe old age of 100, consuming full fat dairy and kefir most of their lives. Add to that, the Maasi and Samburu tribes in Africa who eat a very high fat diet, yet are tall, slender and very healthy, with little incidence of any type of diseases.
Keep in mind, however, that these people are also NOT eating a diet full of inflammatory foods like sugar, corn syrup, processed foods with preservatives, or refined grains, like we consume in the U.S. and other parts of the world. These types of foods are big contributors to raising the risk for heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer and other chronic diseases.
Milk fat has actually been shown to be protective to both heart health and avoiding weight gain. Consider some of the latest studies on dairy fat. One meta-analysis (that is, an analysis of 16 different studies) found that full fat dairy was inversely associated with chronic disease. People who ate the most high-fat dairy foods had the lowest risk for obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, overall.
One fatty acid found in dairy fat, trans-palmitoleic acid, was correlated to healthier levels of cholesterol, lower inflammatory markers, healthier insulin levels, and higher insulin sensitivity. In this study, people with the most trans-palmitoleic acid had a 60% lower chance of developing diabetes.
Other studies show people eating the most high-fat dairy had a whopping 69% lower risk of death from a heart attack than those consuming low-fat dairy. And women eating two or more servings a week of low fat dairy, including skim milk and low-fat yogurt, had higher rates of infertility than others not consuming low-fat dairy.
What is in Dairy Fat That is So Healthy?
Dairy fat contains butyrate, phytanic acid, trans palmitoleic acid and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), as well as the super vitamin, K2, and omega 3 fats. Keep in mind when we are talking about nutrients in dairy fat, we are mostly talking about grass-fed dairy, which contains the highest amounts of healthy fats and nutrients.
Cows need real grass and greens in their diets to make these healthy fats and nutrients, so it’s important to go for grass-fed sources. Not only does eating grass-fed dairy give you significantly higher omega 3s and CLA, you also get more vitamins K, D, and A, and less toxins than conventional, grain-fed options.
Butyric acid, which is also in butter, reduces inflammation and improves gut health, helps prevent colon cancer, and improves symptoms in Crohn’s disease, IBS, celiac disease and other inflammatory bowel conditions.
Butyric acid is an incredible anti-inflammatory agent that improves the beneficial bacteria in the gut, suppresses the growth of harmful bacteria, and prevents electrolyte loss during periods of diarrhea. In fact, butyrate’s anti-inflammatory effect is so effective that a dose of just four grams a day for eight weeks induced complete remission in a group of Crohn’s disease patients.
Butyric acid is also effective in fighting obesity and insulin resistance, and may help to promote the release of leptin, the hormone that suppresses appetite.
Another fatty acid in dairy is phytanic acid, which reduces triglycerides (which can increase LDL cholesterol), improves insulin sensitivity, and stabilizes blood sugar. Another study of 2,600 people showed that trans palmitoleic acid, another healthy fat found in dairy, helped to lower triglycerides, lower insulin levels, lower blood pressure, and lower risk of diabetes.
One other high profile fat in grass-fed dairy products is conjugated linoleic acid or CLA, which reduces the risk of heart disease, helps the body burn fat more effectively, helps in weight loss, and lowers the risk of both cancer and diabetes.
Studies on humans also show that CLA can increase your feeling of fullness after eating, making it the perfect addition to a fat-loss diet.
The anti-inflammatory functions of conjugated linoleic acid, help it support nearly every system in your body. Studies show that CLA plays a role in regulating the body’s inflammatory and immune responses, as well as boosting liver detoxification.
Conjugated linoleic acids boost the immune system and helps build resistance to infections, inflammatory disorders and other immune system imbalances like autoimmune disease and allergies.
One other advantage of both CLA and vitamin K2 is the bone-strengthening and protective effects. Dietary CLA significantly prevents losses in bone density by both increasing the body’s signals to absorb calcium. So, if you are looking to dairy for its ability to protect your bones, be sure you are eating full fat, grass-fed dairy.
Dairy fat from grass-fed cows also contains large amounts of the vitamin K2. While vitamin K1 is found in leafy greens, vitamin K2 is a vitamin found in grass-fed dairy products. Vitamin K2 helps to protect the blood vessels by preventing calcium buildup in them. Instead K2 instructs the body to send calcium to the bones and teeth, where it is needed the most. Vitamin K2 actually reduces arterial calcification, helps prevent arthritis, and is necessary for strengthening bones.
Another benefit of vitamin K2, comes from Dr. Westin Price who found that K2 helps the body to absorb and utilize vitamin D, as the two nutrients that work more effectively together.
Lastly, full fat grass-fed dairy contains one super fat you’ve probably heard about before–omega 3 fatty acids. We all know by now, how beneficial omega 3 fats are for heart health, brain health, anti-inflammatory health and fat burning, among many benefits. Pasture-raised dairy contains a good source of omega 3 fats—far more than regular conventional dairy contains.
Do You Only Get These Benefits from Full-Fat Grass-fed Dairy Products?
Many of the nutrients we discussed above are best found in full fat grass-fed dairy products. While grain-fed dairy can contain some of these benefits, there are far more in grass-fed dairy.
Conventionally raised dairy cows are also subject to inhumane treatment, growth hormones to keep them constantly producing milk non-stop, antibiotics and udder infections. In addition, the cows are fed grain that is most likely doused in the cancer-causing pesticide, glyphosate, as well as other harmful chemicals which show up in their milk—and in the products you eat as well.
So, if you are eating dairy products for the nutrients, be sure to include grass-fed, FULL fat dairy in your diet—as long as you don’t have dairy allergies or lactose intolerance. Full fat dairy is far healthier in every way, and tastes richer, sweeter and is far more satisfying. And beyond grass-fed, you may want to try (if you haven’t already) raw, unpasteurized, grass-fed milk or cheese, which has the MOST nutrients of all!
Hold the “nonfat cappuccino” and order the full fat one!