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(Feb 2021) Many believe that dairy is not a healthy food choice, but the science says otherwise [1]. It depends mostly on product quality, as do most things. Plus, dairy works for some, but not for others. There is great dairy, good dairy and not so good dairy. Because of money and politics [2-4], the current nutritional guidelines are suspect to some degree, so it pays to know the difference.

Unfortunately, we’re still stuck in the “low-fat” craze. Consumers fear saturated fat and cholesterol in food, and opt for plant-based foods and “milks”, despite the lack of science [5,6]. But full fat is making a comeback, and saturated fat is being totally re-examined. Frankly, there is no evidence that saturated fat from full-fat dairy affects diabetes risk. The recent PURE study, with over 135,000 subjects, found that fat intake was not associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD) over 7 years. Rather, saturated fat was linked to less stroke [7]. 

Saturated fat is not a single nutrient, but rather a variety of molecules with different effects and functions. Some of that saturated fat is short-chained, which is highly beneficial. In fact, milk contains ~400 different fatty acids, making it the most complex of all natural fats [8]. Milk fat is in perfect balance (65% saturated, 30% monounsaturated, and 5% polyunsaturated). This has led US nutritionists to call for lifting dietary limits on saturated fat [9,10]. 

Dairy products also contain cholesterol, but dietary cholesterol does not increase CVD risk, according to the USDA. Though demonized, cholesterol is necessary for life. Most of it is made in our bodies, and not from the diet. Eggs and dairy show a number of heart health benefits, despite being loaded with cholesterol [11, 12]. In fact, most studies show an inverse relationship between cholesterol and mortality [13]. Those selling cholesterol-lowering drugs would have you believe otherwise. Yet, much of today’s chronic disease comes from replacing animal fat with pro-inflammatory vegetable oils, trans fats and carbohydrates. The bottom line is, stay clear of processed junk. It’s all about natural, fresh and wholesome.

Rather than negatively impact heart disease [14], or diabetes [15-20], dairy intake is actually linked to improved blood pressure [21-25], insulin sensitivity [26-29], and other heart-friendly outcomes [30, 31], regardless of fat content [32, 33]. Paradoxically, whole-fat dairy is even better, with extra vitamin D and other fat-soluble, anti-inflammatory nutrients that help lower body mass index (BMI) [34-36] and improve metabolic function [37-39]. Wholesome dairy can have a positive effect on heart health [40-45], obesity [35,46, 47], and the environment. 

However, not all dairy is the same. Fat content and quality vary greatly, depending on fat skimming, cow type, animal feed, and basic animal husbandry. Nutritional quality is further diluted by sugar and other additives. Organic is preferred, but some organic farms are iffy. Grass-fed meat and dairy are also preferred, but the product may not be fully grass fed, or grass finished. Milk intolerance that causes bloating is avoided by choosing lactose-free or fermented dairy. Inflammatory milk allergies that could lead to autoimmune disease (type 1 diabetes, asthma) are avoided by choosing goat, sheep, or brown cow (A2) milk. Not all cows or dairy farms are the same, so it’s good to know the many nuances.

It’s not one single nutrient, but the whole dairy matrix that’s good for your heart, body weight and bone health. Dairy is nutrient-dense, providing vitamins (A, B6, B12, D and K), minerals (calcium, iodine, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and zinc), healthy fats and good-quality protein. Fermented dairy (e.g., yogurt, kefir) also provide probiotics, which improve gut and inflammatory health. Good dairy provides far more nutrients than any plant-based milk alternative.

It is surprising how many important nutrients come from wholesome dairy. Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is another unique substance that supports healthy immunity, weight, blood lipids and inflammation. Short-chain saturated fats in dairy provide energy for colon cells, promote satiety, weight loss, mineral absorption, intestinal health, curb blood sugar, and reduce inflammation [48]. Unique dairy fats and peptides exert anti-microbial, immune-boosting, antioxidant, anti-clotting, and detox effects, helping to prevent cancer, osteoporosis, hypertension and other disorders [49-53]. Whole-fat, grass-fed, organic dairy is truly a superfood.

Fermented, whole-fat, grass-fed dairy is amazing [54]. It contains important blood clot inhibitors [51,55], and tackles inflammation better than non-fermented dairy [56]. Probiotics in fermented foods help improve gut health [55,57], reduce LDL cholesterol [58], hypertension [51, 59], CVD [60], and inflammation [61]. High yogurt intake is inversely linked to CVD [24] and diabetes [17,62], reducing the risk by 28% [62,63]. Yogurt consumption increased HDL in women [64], improved blood sugar [65,66] and obesity in children [67-69]. A review of 10 studies supports yogurt for weight control [70]. Fermented dairy is also an excellent source of vitamin K2 [71,72], which chaperones calcium in the body [73], getting calcium out of your arteries and kidneys back to bone, to benefit cardiovascular [74-78], kidney [76,79]. and bone health [76]. 

Despite all the misinformation, research clearly indicates that dairy consumption is cardioprotective–especially from plain yogurt–and the effect is dose dependent [80]. No doubt, full-fat, grass-fed yogurt is the healthiest stuff on the dairy aisle. So, bone up on yogurt like Trimona, the most perfect of dairy products.

References

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