The added sugar in the low-fat dairy products don’t contribute to health at all. In fact, there is a causal correlation between added sugar and the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Milk and yogurt is often fortified with vitamins A and D. But if we are consuming a low-fat or fat-free dairy product, we won’t be able to absorb these fat-soluble vitamins that are necessary to bone, eye, and immune health. Besides needing fat for vitamin absorption, it is also extremely important for hormone regulation too.
In terms of type 2 diabetes, researchers found that intake of high-fat dairy products was inversely associated with T2D development compared to low-fat dairy products. This could be due to the fact that the low-fat dairy products contain added sugars for taste, and over time, this creates the insulin sensitivity that leads to diabetes in individuals. As I discussed in my last post, full-fat dairy products also contain a type of fat called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). The protective effects of CLA has been observed in colorectal cancer, and there is also research suggesting that it decreases risk for T2D by improving insulin sensitivity. Therefore, it’s not only important to consume fat, but make sure and pick the right types of fat for optimal health. The CLA found in full-fat dairy products seems to have many health benefits.
Even though full-fat dairy contains high levels of saturated fat, there has actually never been direct evidence displaying a causal link between saturated fat intake and heart disease. There is also an inverse association between high-fat dairy intake and measures of adiposity, a risk factor for cardiovascular and other metabolic diseases. In terms of heart health, I’d also like to briefly mention the DASH study I spoke about in my previous post. The high-fat dairy DASH diet reduced blood pressure similarly to the regular DASH diet, but improved lipid profiles better than the regular DASH diet. This provides persuasive evidence for the importance of full-fat dairy for heart health in place of low-fat dairy!
Lastly, in terms of cancer, full-fat dairy had mixed results. In terms of breast cancer it seems that full-fat dairy had a negative impact on progression due to the influential hormone levels of the dairy fat. Prostate cancer had a mixed consensus. One the one hand, whole milk consumption increased progression of prostate cancer, but in another study consuming high-fat dairy decreased death from prostate cancer by 60% in those who smoked. However, full-fat dairy does reduce risk and development of colorectal cancer. I think that these studies and the study locations, the breast cancer and prostate cancer studies were in the US, while the colorectal cancer took place in Sweden, make note of a key point! Full-fat dairy is healthful, but the source must be chosen wisely. If the full-fat dairy is grass-fed instead of grain-fed there will be much greater benefits to health. I hope this explored more in future studies, especially to support my position of consuming full-fat dairy!
As I conclude this post, I’d like to make some recommendations for making the transition to full-fat dairy products in your diet! If possible, choose grass-fed dairy at the grocery store or farmers’ market. Although an “organic” label is good for dairy, it doesn't mean as much as grass-fed. Organic cows can still be raised in CAFOs and allowed limited access outside to be able to roam freely and eat grass. Most of their diets will subsist of grain, although the grain will be certified organic, thereby making it non-gmo and pesticide-free. However, grass-fed is better because it contains higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids that are important for heart and brain health. We already get a limited amount of omega-3 fatty acids in our diet today and the average American consumes processed foods and refined oils containing a high level of omega-6 fatty acids, so I think it’s important to try to balance this ratio by switching to wholesome foods. If you’re intolerable to dairy, try grass-fed greek yogurt. The probiotics help with digestion and the removal of whey in the process helps some people digest it better. If you’re still weary about adding dairy into your diet or worried about the cost, you have some options. Try looking for local farmers or local dairy products. For example, here in Atlanta we have a new brand Atlanta fresh, which offers delicious grass-fed yogurt! Farmers’ markets are also a great place to look for grass-fed dairy. When I went to a farmers’ market in California last summer, I was given a glass container of plain grass-fed yogurt that was so creamy and delicious. I was able to reuse the glass container later too (which is always an added benefit to the environment). Also, you can try making your own full-fat yogurt at home, by using grass-fed whole milk! If you’re worried about taste, try adding cinnamon and fresh fruit such as berries or pineapple to your full-fat dairy.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my series of posts about full-fat dairy and will make the choice to choose full-fat next time you’re at the store! Enjoy, and look out for my infographic in the coming week!