Isn’t it interesting how we are told that dairy products are vital to our health and well-being, yet we shouldn’t eat them in their natural, unprocessed form because that would be dangerous to our health?
While there are many reasons to consider limiting the amount of dairy in your diet—from lactose intolerance to acne to dairy allergies/sensitivities—saturated fat content is clearly not one of them.
In fact, there are good reasons to believe that whole milk, full-fat yogurt, cream, and high-fat cheeses may be better for you than their low-fat alternatives.
Reason #1: Saturated fat is not harmful to your health
We and our ancestors have been eating saturated fat for nearly two million years, yet heart disease and other conditions we tend to associate with saturated fat have only been a significant problem for less than a hundred years. In fact, the low-fat diet craze that took hold of us in the 1970s has not improved our health. U.S. heart disease and obesity rates doubled between 1980 and 2000, despite the fact that we reduced our fat intake over that same period of time, eating more and more carbohydrate instead. The belief that saturated fat is unhealthy is dying a slow long-overdue death.
Reason #2: Low-fat and non-fat dairy products are higher in casein
Casein is a very sticky protein in milk that is quite difficult for humans to digest. Milk proteins are designed to nourish baby cows who are outfitted with a special enzyme (rennet) that can break apart casein. Humans do not make rennet, which is one of the reasons why dairy products can cause constipation and other digestive problems.
Reason #3: Low-fat and non-fat dairy products are higher in whey
Whey proteins raise blood insulin levels just as much as pure sugar does. Even though lactose, the sugar that naturally occurs in milk, has a low “glycemic index” and therefore does not raise blood sugar very much, whey proteins trigger big insulin spikes in our systems. Insulin spikes can destabilize blood sugar and hormone levels, lead to carbohydrate cravings, fatigue, mood swings, and obesity.
Reason 4: High-fat dairy products contain less protein
This means that people who have dairy protein sensitivities may tolerate them better. People who have trouble with dairy foods are almost always reacting either to milk carbohydrate (lactose intolerance) or milk proteins (dairy allergy and sensitivity), not to dairy fat. This is why many dairy-sensitive individuals are able to eat butter and heavy cream, which are extremely low in protein.
Reason #5: High-fat dairy products taste better
Fat tends to improve the flavor, digestibility, and absorption of foods. High-fat dairy products are more satisfying, therefore you may find yourself naturally eating less.
Bottom line: The lower the fat content, the higher the protein content
Keep in mind that, regardless of which types of dairy products you may choose to eat, it remains most important to choose unsweetened varieties, since sugar and other refined carbohydrates raise insulin levels and put health at risk in many important ways. Whatever you do, try to avoid non-fat, sweetened dairy products, such as fat-free fruit yogurts or non-fat chocolate milk, since they are essentially big fat insulin spikes in disguise.
For much more information about dairy products and how they affect our health, please see my dairy page.