Full Fat Versus Low-Fat Dairy: Which is Healthier?
No other topic is more highly debated in the nutrition world than dairy. Some say it should be avoided at all costs, while others encourage the regular consumption of full fat dairy. So what should you do? Eliminate dairy from your diet? Choose only low-fat dairy options, or stick with the full fat dairy options?
If you’re following the dietary recommendations of the FDA, it’s simple. Dairy should be a big part of your diet – almost 1/5, in fact, according to My Plate. However, they recommend limiting your dairy intake to low-fat options like 1% milk and reduced fat cheese to discourage the consumption of saturated fat and excess calories.
Yet many health conscious people question the FDA’s approach to dairy, and two major oppositions began to form: those who believe that dairy is for calves and calves alone, and those that believe that full-fat, or even better, raw dairy, should be consumed regularly.
Putting the FDA’s recommendations aside momentarily, which side of the dairy debate are you on? The dairy decision, when it really comes down to it, is a personal one. Knowing the facts and listening to your body will help aid you in making this decision. Before you dramatically throw away that $15 aged gouda or buy your local grocer out of whole milk, learn a bit more about the dairy debate.
Vitamins and Nutrients
The FDA’s recommendation for including dairy in your diet is based in some truth. Dairy is an excellent source of calcium, potassium, and is usually fortified with vitamin D. Few other foods compare when it comes to sheer density of these vital nutrients. Calcium is linked to stronger bones, especially for women at menopausal age. Vitamin D, also absorbed through sunlight, is a vital ingredient allowing your body to have the capability to absorb the calcium. For this reason, calcium supplements taken without vitamin D aren’t very effective. Getting both nutrients at the same time from dairy products is natural and efficient.
Dairy in its purest form – that is, milk before the fat is extracted and water is added to make skim or full fat cheese – is a good source of satisfying fat. We know that fat is a necessary nutrient that keeps you feeling full and controls cravings. Yet saturated fat is at the center of considerable controversy. Studies dating back to the low-fat diet craze in the 1980’s and 90’s have trained us to believe that saturated fat is bad. American’s started to cut out fat wherever they could, starting with dairy. Now, scientists are proving that whole fat, real foods are much better for us than low-fat foods that are highly processed and full of sugar. Whole foods are leading to lower cholesterol and weight loss.
One the other end of the spectrum, there are those who believe that dairy is not a vital part of the human diet.
Unnecessary for Human Development
It’s true that humans are one of the few, if not the only, species on the planet that continue to drink milk, and from a different animal no less, past their infant years. Nutrients found in dairy, like calcium or vitamin D, can be found naturally in other food sources like leafy greens, which also tend to have a much lower fat content.
In order for a dairy cow to produce milk, it needs to be at a certain stage in the fertility cycle. While best practice in the dairy industry is to not milk cows in the last three months of their pregnancy, many people are uncomfortable with the fact that pregnant cows are milked at all, because excess hormones inevitably end up in our milk supply. Some research has linked this fact to ovarian cancer in women, but recent studies have been published reporting opposite findings.
Figuring out whether or not you should eat dairy is mostly about listening to your body. If you find that you feel sick or you develop excess mucus in your throat when dairy is consumed, then it might be best to steer clear. On the other hand, you may feel healthy and more alive with a strong dairy presence in your diet in which case there is no need to cut it out!
One thing that we can all agree on, dairy eaters or not, it is best to choose the most natural, organic versions of every food that we choose to eat, including dairy. Low fat dairy is highly processed. In addition to the milk being homogenized and pasteurized, in order to make the milk low fat, the skim milk is separated from the cream. Apologizes to the My Plate chart, but eating natural, whole-fat dairy from local and sustainable sources is the best way to include dairy in your diet, not to mention it tastes much better! If you do decide that dairy is right for you, next time you are at the grocery store breeze right past the light yogurt and skim milk, and buy some full fat Greek yogurt and whole milk instead!
How do you feel about dairy? Is it part of your diet?