Let's open it up with a meta-analysis. This one, done by Dr. Ness and colleagues in the UK, examined 10 cohort studies in which the consumption of milk, or the intake of calcium from dairy sources, has been related to cardiovascular disease (1). Their conclusion? "Cohort studies provide no convincing evidence that milk is harmful. While there still could be residual confounding from unidentified factors, the studies, taken together, suggest that milk drinking may be associated with a small but worthwhile reduction in heart disease and stroke risk." So the people who drank the most milk experienced reductions in heart disease and stroke risk. Sounds great, but with a reduction in cardiovascular risk like that, they must have been drinking low-fat and skim milk right? No sir/ma'am. As the researchers state in the conclusion of the article, because all of the reviewed studies were set up at times when low-fat milk was unavailable, "it would seem reasonable to assume that the risk estimates obtained relate largely to the consumption of whole milk." BOOM! Whole milk associated with a consistent reduction in cardiovascular disease?? You don't say...
But that's not it... here's another one showing dairy fat prevents cardiovascular disease (2); this one says dairy fat promotes healthy LDL and HDL levels (3); this one says dairy fat reduces your risk for diabetes, keeps you lean, and lowers your triglycerides (4); and this one shows butter is wayyy better than margarine (5), even though the researchers wouldn't quite admit it (6). Blah blah blah etc etc etc, the bottom line is that these benefits are the result of dairy fat. Not fat-free dairy. Not even low-fat dairy. Full-fat dairy. Whole milk, real cheese, full-fat yogurt, and butter. Dairy fat is good for you. It is not the devil we're led to believe it is. But there's still more to the story... because there's something even better than dairy fat out there. Meet grass-fed dairy...
|A slice of |
Grass-fed Dairy Fat
It turns out, dairy fat from cows that were fed grass, instead of grains, is superior in many ways. You see, cows get everything they need from eating grass; their physiology is set up to live on grass and grass alone. But it's common practice in the United States to feed cows grains, since our government-subsidized grains are so dirt-cheap. (For more on this, check out my post on grass-fed beef.) As you'll soon see, though, we would all be doing ourselves a favor by choosing grass-fed dairy.
I have no doubt you've never heard of this amazing vitamin. It's time vitamin K2 had a coming out party (which it will properly receive in my next blog post). This is not the vitamin K you've heard of; that's K1, and it's found in leafy greens like spinach and kale. Vitamin K2, however, is only present in animal foods and is only found in significant amounts in obscure foods like grass-fed butter and goose liver. It is NOT found in any significant amount in butter from grain-fed cows. K2 has been linked to a significant reduction in both heart disease and osteoporosis risk (7, 8). And in rat studies, it's been shown that supplemental K2 can reverse plaque buildup in arteries (9). Yes you read that right, it reverses arteriosclerosis. Much more on K2 next time on the blog.
Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)
CLA is actually a trans-fat, but don't confuse it with the man-made trans-fats found in Crisco; this trans-fat is super healthy. CLA has been shown to reduce body fat (10), fight cancer (11), and keep your heart healthy (12). Grass-fed dairy fat contains 3-5 times more CLA than conventional dairy (13).
Grass-fed dairy fat is significantly higher in beta-carotene and vitamin A than its grain-fed counterpart. Just look at the color; grass-fed butter, for example, is typically a much deeper yellow color than regular butter (see above photo), and that is due to the vitamin A content (14).
While both types of dairy fat are low in polyunsaturated fatty acids (the category to which both omega-6 and omega-3 fats belong), the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 varies greatly between the two. In conventional dairy fat, the omega-6:3 ratio is about 8.5:1 (15), but grass-fed dairy contains more omega-3's, making the ratio an ideal 1:1 (according to this potentially biased source anyway, 16). But even if that figure is exaggerated, there's no doubt that the ratio improves with pasture-feeding, as the fat composition of grass-fed beef indicates (17).
Taste matters too. While the taste of grass-fed milk itself may be subjective, there's nothing subjective about the amazing taste of grass-fed butter. I don't care who you are or where you're from, grass-fed butter is more yummy in every way. Plus, it's a concentrated source of all these benefits of grass-fed dairy fat. Feel free to eat it with a spoon.
I think the conclusion should be obvious at this point, but I'll sum it up for you anyway. You have no reason to be afraid of dairy fat. It won't clog your arteries and kill you, and it's probably not going to make you fat either. In fact, if you opt for the grass-fed variety, it may even unclog your arteries, and it'll help you burn fat. It's time to embrace full-fat dairy again... whole milk, full-fat cheese and yogurt, butter... these foods taste good, and they're good for you, especially if they're from grass-fed cows. If you're drinking skim milk, you're not getting any of the benefits I've explained in this article. So cut the shit. Skim milk is stupid.
You may be wondering where you can find grass-fed dairy. Here are some tips:
This is the easiest to find. Your local, conventional grocery store, like a Stop & Shop or a Publix (just in case anyone in Florida cares), will very likely carry a brand of grass-fed butter called Kerrygold. It's imported from Ireland, and it's super yummy. Kerrygold alone can take care of all your grass-fed dairy fat needs.
Whole Foods usually carries grass-fed milk, although they're out of stock a little too much for my liking. Just don't get the skim version; that defeats the purpose of buying grass-fed. A farmer's market is also a good place to look for grass-fed milk.
Again, I've seen grass-fed yogurt at Whole Foods, you just have to look for it. But it won't be in those handy, sugar-laden, individual-serving 6-packs; you'll find it in a larger bottle and with nothing added to it, just plain. Add your own fruit, it's delicious. A farmer's market may carry grass-fed yogurt as well.
Grass-fed cheese is an interesting case. Many of the grass-fed cheeses that you'll find are imported from Europe. Italian parmigiano reggiano, for example, is made from raw, grass-fed milk, but it may or may not be labeled as such. If the cheese is imported from Europe, rather than made in America, there's a much better chance that it's from grass-fed cows. You may just have to do a little Google research to know for sure.