What’s the deal with dairy?

Skimming the truth from the myths

The public perception surrounding dairy ranks right alongside red meat in the misinformation department. And it’s not hard to see why.

Recommendations run the gamut—with some sources advising you should eat none at all, and others pushing a minimum of three servings a day. So if you’re confused about how much dairy you should be eating, you’re not alone.

The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in the middle. Dairy isn’t always good for you. And it isn’t always bad for you, either. But don’t mistake this for a gray area—because it’s most certainly not.

So let’s start with a few things everyone can agree on and break it down from there.

A goldmine of nature-made nutrition

Dairy contains a variety of beneficial nutrients—including amino acids, and medium- and odd-chain saturated fats. Not to mention a range of essential vitamins and minerals—including calcium, vitamin D, vitamins K1 and K2, potassium, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin B12, and riboflavin.

So why is there controversy over whether or not it’s good for you? The debate boils down to the mainstream’s favorite dietary scapegoat: Saturated fat.

Low-fat dairy is the deadlier choice

First, the facts: Low-fat dairy products aren’t the “healthy” choice.

In fact, removing the fat from dairy isn’t just unnecessary. It actually turns a perfectly healthy food into a ticking time bomb.

For example, take this terrifying discovery: A new study linked low-fat dairy products—like skim milk, frozen yogurt, and other so-called “health foods”—with a higher risk of Parkinson’s disease.

This research relied on data from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow Up Study, collected as far back as 1984 and 1986, respectively. Roughly 80,000 women and 48,000 men completed food frequency questionnaires. Researchers grouped them according to dairy intake.

Ultimately, total dairy consumption had no significant link to Parkinson’s risk. But low-fat dairy consumption, specifically, raised subjects’ risk of the disease by a considerable margin.

Even after adjusting for the usual factors like smoking, exercise levels, BMI, drinking habits, coffee consumption, and total caloric intake, researchers still noted a 34 percent increase in Parkinson’s risk among subjects who ate three or more servings of low-fat dairy a day.1

So clearly, the prevailing low-fat dairy recommendation is as harmful as it is dated.

Full-fat dairy cuts stroke risk in half

On the flip side of this coin, studies show some impressive benefits associated with full-fat dairy.

For instance, recent research using data from 21 countries linked two or more servings of full-fat dairy per day with lower rates of heart disease and death.

In fact, the risk for stroke was more than twice as high in individuals who avoided dairy products altogether.2

Full-fat dairy was also linked to lower rates of death and heart disease when compared to low-fat dairy.

Why milk doesn’t do a body good

Now, there’s one exception to the rule that full-fat dairy is good for you. And that’s cow’s milk.

As you may already know, I’ve never been a proponent of commercially-produced cow’s milk. And there are a few reasons why.

For one, there are high levels of phosphorus in pasteurized, homogenized milk. And despite its reputation as a bone-builder, phosphorus actually interferes with calcium absorption. (Leafy greens are a better source of dietary calcium any day of the week.)

There are also hazards in the processing of milk. Like the fact that homogenization keeps fat particles suspended in milk, so cream doesn’t rise to the top like it did years ago.

This makes the fat and cholesterol in milk more susceptible to oxidation. Which leads to excess free-radical formation—something research indicates can lead to disease. And if that wasn’t bad enough, pasteurization wipes out any other nutritional value that might still be present in the milk.

Sure, the heat from pasteurization kills potentially hazardous microorganisms. But it also alters the proteins and fatty acids in milk—to the point where the bioavailability of these beneficial fats becomes nonexistent.

Then if you take it a step further and remove the fat altogether (i.e. skim milk), you’re pretty much only left with sugar. And sugar kills, whether it comes from a candy shop or a cow.

FACT: Cheese is a bona fide health food

On the other hand, fermented dairy products like cheese are a much healthier option.

First of all, the fermentation process drastically reduces the sugar content.

Second, research is showing some significant health benefits associated with these types of dairy products.

Compared to milk, fermented dairy is going to take the crown every time. And the following study is just the latest example as to why.

Finnish researchers analyzed the eating habits and heart disease risk of roughly 2,000 men over the course of 20 years. They found risk of heart disease was 27 percent lower in men consuming the most fermented dairy products, compared to men who consumed the least.3

And this isn’t the first time a study has demonstrated the benefits of fermented dairy. In fact, published research shows that eating more cheese can slash blood pressure and inflammation, while lowering diabetes risk.4

Plus, another recent study found that men who ate the most cheese had higher levels of butyric acid, a gut-nourishing short-chain fatty acid with links to lower obesity and faster metabolism.5

So my advice? Skip the milk and stick to cheese. And look for organic, free-range, grass-fed varieties whenever possible.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: There are some huge differences between factory-farmed animal products and those from locally raised, pastured livestock.

One of these differences is the pesticide-laden GMO grains that industrial farmers feed their animals. Subsequently, all of these toxins eventually wind up on your (cheese) plate.

But maybe even more concerning is the use of growth hormones and antibiotics.

When farmers give their cows these shots, you, as the consumer, end up with an extra helping of both.

Opting for grass-fed cheese, butter, etc. helps eliminate those concerns.

It may cost you more. But I can’t think of a smarter way to spend your money.

References:

  1. “Intake of dairy foods and risk of Parkinson disease.” Neurology. 2017 Jul 4;89(1):46-52. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000004057.
  2. “Association of dairy intake with cardiovascular disease and mortality in 21 countries from five continents (PURE): a prospective cohort study.” Lancet. 2018 Nov 24;392(10161):2288-2297. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31812-9.
  3. “Intake of fermented and non-fermented dairy products and risk of incident CHD: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study.” Br J Nutr. 2018 Dec;120(11):1288-1297. doi: 10.1017/S0007114518002830.
  4. “The amount and type of dairy product intake and incident type 2 diabetes: results from the EPIC-InterAct Study,” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2012; 96(2): 382-390
  5. “Metabolomics investigation to shed light on cheese as a possible piece in the French paradox puzzle.” J Agric Food Chem. 2015 Mar 18;63(10):2830-9. doi: 10.1021/jf505878a.

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