Just about every piece of dietary advice you can find recommends low-fat or non-fat dairy. But a growing number of experts are arguing that it's healthier to eat and drink dairy products with all the fat left in.
The fat in dairy foods is roughly 50 to 60 percent saturated fat, but the idea that this is bad for your heart may be nothing more than a mistaken interpretation of the science. In a 2010 analysis, 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]."
What's more, according to dLife:
"If only half of dairy fat is the saturated kind, what kind is the rest? Dairy fat contains lots of oleic acid (the stuff that makes olive oil so healthy), along with a type of fat called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) that may help with weight loss. Recent studies strongly suggest that something -- possibly the CLA -- in dairy fat does indeed help with weight management."
I think it's safe to say that one of the biggest myths recently sabotaging many Americans' diets is the idea that low-fat and fat-free foods are healthy. It first started in the '50s and was largely a result of seriously flawed research by Ancel Keys. Fortunately, most people are recognizing the fallacy of this myth, but many still believe it.
In a recent Consumer Reports survey,1 51 percent of Americans said they are limiting their consumption of fat. It's not clear what type of fat was being limited, but chances are this lumps ALL fats into one evil category, when in reality the only types of fats you should really be limiting are man-made varieties like trans fats and rancid, refined polyunsaturated fats in vegetable oils.
Unfortunately, fats in general are considered the dietary villains by many people, even though natural fats, like the kind found in full-fat raw dairy, are very good for you.
Science Shows Full-Fat Dairy Is Good for You
You probably already realize this but I want to make it perfectly clear that I do not recommend consuming pasteurized dairy products of any kind. When I discuss dairy being healthy, I am referring to the organic, unprocessed raw varieties. Unfortunately, research studies on raw dairy 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.
For instance, research shows that consuming full-fat dairy may help reduce your risk of:
- Diabetes: Palmitoleic acid, which occurs naturally in full-fat dairy products and meat, protects against insulin resistance and diabetes. One study found people who consumed full-fat dairy had higher levels of trans-palmitoleate in their blood,2 and this translated to a two-thirds lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to people with lower levels.
- Cancer: Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a type of fat found naturally in cow's milk, significantly lowers the risk of cancer. In one study, those who ate at least four servings of high-fat dairy foods each day had a 41 percent lower risk of bowel cancer3 than those who ate less than one. Each increment of two servings of dairy products equaled a 13 percent reduction in a woman's colon cancer risk.
- Weight: Women who ate at least one serving of full-fat dairy a day gained 30 percent less weight over a nine-year period4 than women who ate only low-fat (or no) dairy products.
- Heart Disease: People who ate the most full-fat dairy were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease, according to a 16-year study of Australian adults.5
Full-Fat Raw Milk Used as ‘Medicine’ by Mayo Clinic Founder
More evidence pointing to the healing properties of full-fat, raw dairy can be found from generations past when, in the early 1900s, raw milk was actually used as medicine. Dr. J.R. Crewe's "Milk Cure" was used at the Mayo clinic to successfully treat:
Cancer Weight loss Kidney disease Allergies Skin problems Urinary tract problems Prostate problems Chronic fatigue Numerous other chronic conditions
Remember, the only milk available at the time was raw whole milk, rich in butterfat, from pasture-fed cows. It was organic of course because back then all foods were, as pesticides had not been invented.
Dr. Crewe, MD -- one of the founders of the Mayo Foundation, the predecessor of the Mayo Clinic -- published an article in Certified Milk Magazine (January 1929)6 describing the milk treatment as a combination of "detoxifying fast and nutrient dense feeding," and noted how diseases that have no similarity improved rapidly on raw milk.
Dr. Crewe used the milk cure for 15 years, and his patients were wild about it because it worked and required no additional drugs or other medical interventions. Striking results were seen in tuberculosis as well as in diseases of the nervous system, heart, and kidneys. Anemia and pernicious anemia responded well to it, as did toxic thyroid and chronic cough.
"Hypertension responds with equal gratification. The blood pressure improves rapidly," wrote Crew.7 "I have never seen such rapid and lasting results by any other method."
Unfortunately, his fellow medical practitioners were not as enthusiastic. Many physicians agreed on the benefits of dairy products as food, but were not interested in using it as a sole means of treatment. Crewe said in his article:
"The chief fault of the treatment is that it is too simple… and it does not appeal to the modern medical man."
Don't Full-Fat Dairy Products Contain Saturated Fats?
Yes, and this is one of the reasons why they are good for you.
The belief that saturated fat will increase your risk of heart attacks and cardiovascular disease is simply untrue. A 2010 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,8 which reviewed 21 studies relating to the risk of heart disease, stroke, and saturated fats, found that:
"… there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD [coronary heart disease] or CVD [stroke and cardiovascular disease]."
Saturated fats provide the building blocks for your cell membranes and a variety of hormones and hormone-like substances that are essential to your health, and saturated fats from animal and vegetable sources (such as meat, dairy, certain oils, and tropical plants like coconut) provide a concentrated source of energy in your diet.
When you eat fats as part of your meal, they slow down absorption so that you can go longer without feeling hungry. In addition, they act as carriers for important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Dietary fats are also needed for the conversion of carotene to vitamin A, for mineral absorption, and for a host of other biological processes.
Saturated fats are also:
- The preferred fuel for your heart, and also used as a source of fuel during energy expenditure
- Useful antiviral agents (caprylic acid)
- Effective as an anticaries, antiplaque and anti-fungal agent (lauric acid)
- Useful to actually lower cholesterol levels (palmitic and stearic acids)
- Modulators of genetic regulation and prevent cancer (butyric acid)
So most Americans could actually benefit from ditching processed margarine and fat-free dairy and instead eating foods like organic, raw full-fat dairy products (butter, cheese, milk, cream). Unfortunately, these health foods continue to be widely shunned.
An Important Dairy Distinction: Raw vs. Pasteurized
As I noted earlier, in my opinion there's no reason to eat pasteurized dairy products , ever. Pasteurizing milk significantly impairs the biological value of the food and destroys enzymes, diminishes vitamins, denatures fragile milk proteins, destroys vitamin B12 and vitamin B6, kills beneficial bacteria, and actually promotes pathogens.
Organically raised, grass-fed milk, on the other hand, naturally contains hundreds of healthy, "good" bacteria, including lactobacillus and acidophilus. There are also several coliform families of bacteria. It's important to realize that there are over 230 different kinds of E. coli, and only two or three of them are actually pathogenic and will cause you to get sick.
The rest are actually beneficial for your gut.
Raw milk also contains vitamins, which are virtually eliminated by the pasteurization process of commercial milk. But it's the presence of beneficial bacteria that make raw milk such an outstanding food source to promote the growth of healthy bacteria in your intestine, which in turn has a significant, beneficial impact on your overall immune function.
Other health-promoting ingredients in raw milk include:
- Valuable enzymes that are destroyed during pasteurization . Without them, milk is very difficult to digest. So if you have lactose intolerance, it may very well disappear once you start consuming raw dairy products.
It also contains phosphatase, an enzyme that aids and assists in the absorption of calcium in your bones, and lipase enzyme, which helps to hydrolyze and absorb fats.
Enzymes are deactivated when you get above 120 degrees. By the time you get to 150, 160 degrees, almost all of them are completely inactivated, which is why you will not get ANY of these benefits from pasteurized dairy products.
- Natural butterfat, which is homogenized or removed in pasteurized milk. Without butterfat, it becomes very difficult for your body to absorb and utilize the vitamins and minerals in the water fraction of the milk. Butterfat is also your best source of preformed vitamin A, and contains re-arranged acids with strong anti-carcinogenic properties.
- Healthy unoxidized cholesterol
- Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which fights cancer and may help reduce your body fat.
- High omega-3 and low omega-6 ratios, which is the beneficial ratio between these two essential fats
For most people, raw dairy products from grass-fed cows, including milk, butter, cheese, and cream, are phenomenally healthy. The only exception would be for carb nutritional types, who may need to limit the amount of raw fats they consume or simply skim off the fat (cream) that rises to the top of the raw milk.
You can find tips for identifying high-quality sources of raw milk and dairy by reading my interview with Mark McAfee. You can also locate a raw dairy source near you at the Campaign for Real Milk Web site.