Getting Smart about Dairy Products

October 25, 2016

By Darlene Kvist, MS, CNS, LN

article_healthyeating_dairyproducts.jpgIt is difficult to be a smart consumer when choosing dairy products because there are several things to consider. Most people focus on fat content, and often choose low-fat dairy options because that’s what they have been told is healthy (To learn how to include good fats in your diet overall and avoid damaging fats, read Getting Smart about Fats). You may be surprised to learn that lower fat options are probably not the best choice. But there are other things to think about when making your dairy selections. Read on for some important considerations when choosing dairy products.

Full fat or low-fat?

After analyzing the fat in breast milk, scientists have found it to be a saturated fat. This is the fat babies and young children need for good brain, retina and bone health. The saturated fat helps to assimilate omega-3 fatty acids into the brain and retina, along with calcium absorption for bones and teeth. Breast milk is considered to be a complete food with a perfect balance of nutrients.

Low-fat dairy products, such as skim milk, are deficient in vitamins A and D. Since vitamins A and D are necessary for growth, energy, and learning, food manufactures fortify low-fat dairy products with synthetic vitamin A and D. Synthetic vitamins are never as beneficial as the real vitamins.

Another thing to remember about the fat content in dairy products is that when fat is removed from a product, usually carbohydrates or artificial ingredients are added for better flavor and mouth feel.

Overall, it’s better to choose full fat options.

A hidden danger often present in reduced-fat dairy

There is another twist to the dairy story. Usually dried milk powder is added to low-fat skim milk products. Because of the spray drying process used to make milk powder, it contains oxidized or damaged cholesterol. Researcher Dr. Kilmer McCully found that oxidized cholesterol can lead to atherosclerosis. Milk powder containing oxidized cholesterol is a common ingredient added to skim milk, low-fat yogurt, low-fat cheese, cheese substitutes and baby formulas. This is another reason to stick with full fat dairy options.

Hormones, another thing to watch out for

There is still more to the dairy story. Unless labeled “hormone free,” most milk comes from cows treated with a bovine growth hormone called rBGH or rBST to boost milk production. Milk from cows treated with rBGH contains higher levers of IGF-1, which is a powerful insulin-like hormone that has been linked to cancers of the reproductive system. To avoid bovine growth hormone, it is important to purchase either organic milk or dairy products from hormone-free animals (labeled “hormone free”).

Additional factors to consider about dairy products

Dairy products may not be a good choice for you. Did you know that more people are allergic to casein, the protein in dairy, than any other food? If this is the case for you, it’s best to avoid dairy products completely in order to feel your best.

The final word on dairy choices

After extensive research and years of clinical practice, I believe that eating moderate amounts of full fat, hormone-free dairy (organic if possible) is a smarter and safer choice for most people than low-fat dairy products.


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