For years, we’ve known that the fat-loving French – who fearlessly feast on cheese, duck fat, goose liver and butter – don’t get fat. Well, of course, some do… but on average the French are much leaner than Americans.
The French population also experiences much lower rates of heart disease. In fact, people in the Gascony region have a mere 25% of the heart attack deaths of vegetable oil-consuming Americans!
We’ve been saying for a long time that for most people going “low fat” is the fast track to obesity and disease. Studies show low-fat foods don’t promote weight loss. Nor do they help your heart. In fact, your body requires healthy dietary fat to function at its best.
Full-Fat Dairy Protects Against Cardiovascular Disease
Research conducted at the University of Texas, tracked dairy fats in blood samples from almost 3,000 subjects over the age of 65. The researchers took blood samples from the subjects for 22 years. During the study period, 833 of the subjects died from heart disease.
And what the researchers found was enough to make low-fat proponents cringe: The participants with high levels of dairy-related fatty acids were less likely to die from heart disease or stroke.
What’s more, as levels of a specific saturated dairy fat (called heptadecanoic acid) went up, risk of cardiovascular disease went down. This was especially impressive for stroke. In fact, participants with the highest levels of heptadecanoic acid had a 42 percent lower risk compared to those with the lowest.
Dr. Marcia Otto, lead author of the study, and assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics and Environmental Sciences at University of Texas School of Public Health states:
“Dairy fat, contrary to popular belief, does not increase risk of heart disease or overall mortality.”
Despite the reams of research pouring in on the benefits of a high-fat diet for diabetes-reversal, weight loss, cancer prevention and recovery, Alzheimer’s and more, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services still recommends Americans choose fat-free or low-fat dairy.
Addressing the wrongful vilification of healthy fats, Dr. Otto says:
“Our results highlight the need to revisit current dietary guidance on whole-fat dairy foods… Consumers have been exposed to so much different and conflicting information about diet, particularly in relation to fats.”
As is the case with most foods, however, not all dairy is created equal.
How to Buy the Healthiest Dairy
It’s important to read labels and understand that a lot of dairy products go through significant processing. This can include homogenization and pasteurization which can change the very nature of the proteins and fats in the product. Many also contain additional ingredients like gums, stabilizers and thickeners, which have been associated with digestive and other health issues.
What’s more, the nutritional value of grain-fed, mass-produced dairy varies substantially from that produced by animals raised on pasture – their natural diet. And finally, when the fat is removed to produce a “low fat” dairy product, what is left is a high glycemic food with greater amounts of sugar, by volume.
When reaching for dairy, here are the healthiest options to choose:
- Whole Milk & Heavy Cream. Choose whole milk and cream from pasture-raised cows, free from hormones, pesticides, and other chemicals.
- Butter. Opt for grass-fed butter, made simply with cream and salt. Avoid margarine and low fat “butter” spreads like the plague.
- Yogurt, Kefir & Sour Cream. Look for traditionally cultured, full-fat yogurt, kefir and sour cream. Opt for plain varieties of whole-milk yogurt to avoid added sugars.
- Cheeses. Raw cheese made from grass-fed milk is the healthiest option.
Kelley Herring is the co-founder of Wellness Bakeries, makers of grain-free, gluten-free, low-glycemic baking mixes for cakes, cookies, breads, pizza and much more. Kelley’s academic background is in biology and chemistry and for the last 15+ years, she has focused on the study of nutritional biochemistry…and the proven powers of compounds in foods to heal the body.
- Otto, MC. et al. Serial measures of circulating biomarkers of dairy fat and total and cause-specific mortality in older adults: the Cardiovascular Health Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2018 Jul 11.
- Can Fois Gras Aid The heart? A French Scientist Says Yes. NY Times. November 17, 1991 2.
- L S Piers, K Z Walker, R M Stoney, M J Soares4 and K O’Dea. The influence of the type of dietary fat on postprandial fat oxidation rates: monounsaturated (olive oil) vs saturated fat (cream). International Journal of Obesity. June 2002, Volume 26, Number 6, p 814-821
- Richard JL. Coronary risk factors. The French paradox. Arch Mal Coeur Vaiss. 1987 Apr;80 Spec No:17-21.
- Kresser, Chris. 5 Fats You Should Be Cooking With But May Not Be. Chriskresser.com