Are you following a low-fat diet to reduce your waistline or for your cardiovascular health? Have you banned butter and whole milk from your table? It is known that fat from animal sources is saturated and has cholesterol, the archenemy of our health. Correct? Well, not exactly.
There are many misconceptions around low-fat dairy. We are often led to believe that fat is unhealthy, and dairy products are one of the easiest targets. As a matter of fact, do you know that when milk is separated from its fat, it loses its white colour and turns bluish? In order to make it more appealing, manufacturers add some whey. This is the liquid that comes out of yogurt when it is drained or after milk is curdled and contains protein. By doing this, the original proportion among the micronutrients is lost.
Obviously, this is not applicable to people who are lactose-intolerant or allergic to milk proteins, nor to those who do not consume food derived from animals. As a Nutrition Coach, I help people eat in a balanced way whether they are vegan, omnivore or other.
What I am referring to is the idea that fat is bad, especially if it comes from animals, because of it association with obesity, high cholesterol and heart disease. Despite many people adhering to a low –fat diet, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease have skyrocketed in the last three decades.
After much evidence showing that fat is important – considering it is in balanced quantities and good quality, of course, not hydrogenated or rancid or from GMO oils – people reintroduced the good fats such as avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds on their plates. But there is still a lot of resistance regarding full fat dairy products. It is even difficult to find full fat products at the grocery store.
So why is fat important? It has several functions in our body, one of them is to transport certain vitamins around the body such as vitamin D. This is particularly important in Canada because of our long winters, when we do not get enough exposure to the sun to allow our skin to synthesize it. We need to get vitamin D from our food supply, including dairy. The problem is that vitamin D – which helps calcium absorption in the bones – is fat soluble and if there isn’t enough fat to carry it, there is no use of adding it to the 1% or 2% milk. Actually, although we consume a lot dairy in North America, osteoporosis is more common than in countries where dairy is not that abundant.
So, what about cholesterol and heart disease? Well, when it comes to cholesterol, we should first ask two questions:
First, why is our liver increasing its cholesterol production
Second why is it not getting rid of excess?
Low-grade chronic inflammation and overloaded liver could likely be the answer to why many people have high cholesterol. Although this topic can be discussed more widely, you can rest assured that butter or whole milk is not the cause of it. The focus here is dairy: if you do not have a hard time digesting dairy foods, and if you are not vegan, I recommend considering incorporating more full fat dairy foods – preferably organic, if possible – in your eating habits. It does not mean, that you should over eat dairy, but simply have a balanced consumption of full fat instead of low fat dairy in your diet.
As with any food, balance is key!