There is a misconception, pehaps a result of the low-fat craze or the desire to blame our health problems on one cause, that whole fat dairy causes increased body fat and a number of other health problems. Many have also stopped drinking milk or eating dairy products because of the health problems that can be caused by lactose. In this article I will explain why the right kind of dairy is actually healthy and why many people don’t have to worry about eating lactose.
While it can be difficult to wrap our minds around, especially given the message we’ve heard over and over againt that eating fat is bad, whole fat dairy can actually promote fat loss when coupled with an overall healthy diet. Here’s how: high quality, whole fat milk contains a specific type of fat called coagulated linoleic acid (CLA) that may contribute to fat loss. In addition to it’s potential fat-loss benefits, CLA also has anticarcinogenic properties. Since non-fat milk doesn’t have any fat it doesn’t have any CLA either. Also, CLA is only found in milk from cows that eat a natural grass diet. By contrast, most cows raised in industrial dairies eat grains like corn rather than natural grass. You can ensure your milk is from grass fed cows by looking for a label that says “pastured” or “organic.” Organic milk has to come from cows that have been, at a minimum, partially pastured. Also, cows that produce organic milk haven’t been treated with growth hormones.
Moreover, whole milk from pastured cows is rich in nutrients and has the ability to satisfy hunger. Feeling full is an important part of being able to lose unhealhty weight, and whole milk helps accomplish this more than non-fat, low-fat milk, or other sugary drinks like soda or juice. Milk from pastured cows is also rich in potassium, high quality protein, vitamin A, calcium and vitamin K2 (which isn’t found in industrially raised cows). Together, these nutrients work together to support lean muscle mass, strong bones, and healthy teeth. Therefore, when milk replaces other less nutritious calories it can improve your overall health.
Milk from pastured cows has even greater benefits when found in other forms. For example, regular consumption of yogurt can have an even more pronounced effect on feeling full. Yogurt also contains high amounts of iodine, an extremely important nutrient for women’s health. It also contains healthy bacteria for a strengthened immune system and improved digestion. Another benefit of yogurt is that those who are lactose intolerant can often eat it without any problems, as the bacteria in yogurt break lactose down into easily digestible sugars.
Cheese is another little recognized health food. Cheese is especially high in K2, a vitamin that is different from the common form of Vitamin K and is gaining recognition for its importnant role in bone heath and preventing artherosclerosis. Cheese is also high in calcium and protein.
Perhaps most suprising, butter from pastured cows is healthy too and might actually promote fat loss when eaten as part of a diet low in refined sugar and whigh in whole-foods! While butter is high in saturated fat, the saturated fat is readily used by the body for energy and does not cause a spike in insulin. Butter from pastured cows is also extremely high in vitamin K2, which helps the body deposit calcium in the bones and teeth, rather than in soft tissues like the arteries (one of the major causes of atherosclerosis). Whole butter is also high in Vitamin A, an important nutrient for the skin, eyes, and immune system. Finally, since it is almost pure fat, butter is extremely high in CLA! For a good source of butter, I recommend Kerry Gold (from Ireland) or a local organic butter. You’ll be able to tell it’s from cows that eat grass by its distinct orange tint, indicating its high nutrient content. Another potential benefit of butter is that it contains little to no lactose.
Which leads me to the issue of lactose intollerance. Avoiding lactose is one of those health trends that spread when a few people have good results with it and then assume that everyone else needs to do the same. For most people of European descent, however, lactose consumption doesn’t pose any problems. Lactose is the form of sugar that is found in milk. The body breaks lactose down into glucose by releaseing lactase (a digetive enzyme). Most humans can eat lactose when they are babies because their bodies still produce lactase. Good thing, because they depend on their mother’s milk for survival. Unfortunately, many people’s bodies stop producing lactase when they grow older, leading to digestion problems when dairy is eaten. The bottom line is that unless you are actually lactose intollerant, you don’t need to stop eating dairy, just be sure to eat dairy from cows that eat grass (the food they are designed to eat). If you have digestion problems or feel bloated or have other reactions after eating dairy, try going without it for a while to find out if that is the problem.
If you are lactose intollerant and still want to enjoy the health benefits of dairy, you might be able to eat yogurt, butter, or whey protein, as these products are low in lactose (be sure to consult with your doctor first). Also, not all forms of lactose are the same, different cows produce different kinds of lactose. Old varieties of cows, called the A2 variety, such as Jersey and Guernsey, produce a milk that some people who are lactose intollerant can drink. Most mass-produced milk, however, is produced by new varieties of cows (the A1 variety), like the Holstein, that can cause symptoms such as excess mucus production and other forms of lactose intollerance.
A note on raw vs pasteurized milk. Many in the natural health community argue that raw milk is far healthier than pasteurized milk – I’m not convinced. Based on the studies I’ve looked at ,the most common form of pasteurization used, Short Time High Temperature (STHT), has a minimal effect on milk’s nutrients. Some milk is pasteurized using an Ultra High Temperature process, and this can have a more significant effect on milk’s nutrients and should be avoided. In my opinion the benefits of STHT pasteurization outweight any small losses in nutrients. Unless you get raw milk from cows rasied in your backyard of from someone you trust who lives very nearby, the risk of bacteria contamination is real. The more times raw milk is handled and the futher it has to be transported, the more opportunites there are for bacteria contamination or growth. Raw milk consumption continues to result in sickness or death every year. Some foods simply need to undergo a minimal amount of processesing to ensure edibility.
The most important things to ask when purchasing dairy are: “Is it organic?”, “Are the cows grass fed?”, and, perhaps, “What kind of cows does it come from?” Organic, whole dairy from grass fed cows is nutritionally superior to any other type of dairy and offers a whole host of health promoting nutrients! So, put down the non-fat milk from cows fed corn and soy and enjoy the rich goodness of a cold glass of whole milk from happy cows that eat green, nutrient-dense, grass!
Pubmed study on dairy and body composition: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22249225
Dr. Weston Price study on K2: http://www.westonaprice.org/fat-soluble-activators/x-factor-is-vitamin-k2
Pubmed study on dairy and appetite: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22380537