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Why your body prefers FULL-FAT dairy products

autism gut health nutrition recovery

Welcome back to another nutrition edition post! Last week, I shared the benefits of eating the whole egg. This week, you’re going to learn all about the benefits of whole milk! I don’t know about you, but I used to believe in the concept of “unnecessary calories”. In the case of milk, if I had the choice between whole milk and skim milk, I would choose skim milk because I believed whole milk contained “unnecessary” calories. Or to give another example: I also believed condiments or certain toppings were unnecessary, like butter on vegetables or sprinkles on ice cream. I am definitely going to do a whole separate post on how to overcome your fear of “unnecessary” calories because I know how common this is in eating disorder recovery, but right now it’s time to spill the milk (and yes, I am aware that spill the beans is the right expression, but you get what I mean!) on why your body prefers full-fat dairy! 

The Whole Milk Debate

First of all, why has diet culture demonized whole milk? Why is it that society promotes the eating of avocados, nuts and nut butters, olive oil, and other high-fat foods, but advises you to opt for reduced fat or nonfat dairy products? In my research, I discovered that the full-fat dairy debate has to do with the saturated fat content found in whole milk products.

What is Saturated Fat?

Saturated fat is a type of dietary fat that is mostly found in animal products such as beef, poultry, pork, full-fat dairy and eggs, but also in tropical oils such as palm and coconut. Because saturated fat is solid at room temperature, saturated fats are sometimes referred to as “solid fats”. Mainstream nutrition science claims that eating saturated fat can raise cholesterol levels, which in turn can lead to heart disease. But this is exactly where the problem lies, because several studies have shown that saturated fat consumption has no direct correlation with either an increase in blood cholesterol levels or heart disease! What often happens in our diet-obsessed health industry, is that doctors or professionals or researchers will notice a certain trend, then make claims that lack context. In this case, the context that is lacking is the frequency and source of the saturated fat..

The Source of the Saturated Fat

Over the past several decades, there is no doubt that people have started consuming much more highly processed foods. This has contributed to the rise of obesity and heart disease, and it just so happens that processed food tends to be higher in saturated fat. When you’re relying on highly processed foods as your main intake source, obviously you’re consuming excess amounts of saturated fats which can result in weight gain and other health consequences.

But what about consuming saturated fats in moderation, and from whole food sources such as full-fat yogurt and cheese, grass-fed meats, and pasture-raised eggs? I don’t think I have to tell you this is an entirely different context!

Several studies have shown that people who eat full-fat products from natural sources are actually less likely to become obese, because they feel more satisfied and are thus less likely to overeat. Along with saturated fat, diet culture has demonized fat and calories in general, influencing people to opt for fat-free or low-calorie products. But because our bodies need fats - it’s not one of the three macronutrients for nothing - the body will try to compensate in other ways when it isn’t getting enough.

To give an example, say you choose non-fat yogurt instead of whole milk yogurt. Because the whole milk yogurt is higher in the fat and calories your body needs, you will be more likely to feel satisfied and no longer crave much else afterwards. But because you chose the nonfat yogurt while your body really needed fats to be fully satisfied, you will obsess over other high-fat foods - probably including processed foods - to make up for the lack of fat in the yogurt.

In conclusion, saturated fats from whole-food sources such as whole milk dairy also contain protein, vitamins, minerals and other components that modulate the effect of fat on health, unlike highly processed sources of saturated fat. Now, this isn’t to say that you should never eat highly processed food, I mean I love my burgers and ice cream and cookies, because it’s all about eating these items in a way that compliments a lifestyle filled with a variety of foods!

Nutritional Benefits of Full-Fat Dairy

So now that we’ve busted the myth around saturated fats, let’s move onto the nutritional benefits of full-fat dairy. Growing up, we always had whole milk in the house. I mean, who wasn’t told that you need to drink milk to build strong bones? Milk is an excellent source of calcium and Vitamin D, two nutrients that are absolutely essential for bone health and the prevention of Osteoporosis, unfortunately a very common condition among those who struggle with disordered eating. Immediately here, I want to touch on why whole milk is of the essence, because vitamin D is fat-soluble, meaning it can only be absorbed by the body when consumed with fat! Similarly, the mineral calcium acts like a fat-soluble vitamin because it requires a carrier for absorption and transport.

Vitamin K

A third vitamin found specifically in whole milk is Vitamin K. Vitamin K is actually a group of compounds, the most important being K1 and K2. Vitamin K1 is obtained from leafy greens and some other vegetables, while vitamin K2 is obtained from meat, dairy, and eggs. Just like vitamin D, vitamin K is fat soluble meaning it will only be absorbed by the body when consumed from a fat-containing source. In fact, low-fat or nonfat dairy products contain a mere 5% of the vitamin K2 of full-fat equivalents!

One of the reasons I love doing these nutrition posts is that I myself learn so much in the process! What I learned about K2 is that it works synergistically with vitamin D to fortify calcium in bones and teeth, so much so that it is being seen as a treatment for Osteoporosis! Several Japanese trials have shown that supplementing with K2 can completely reverse bone loss in menopausal women. So, I’d say, if you have a history of malnutrition and have Osteopenia or Osteoporosis, get your booty to the grocery store and stock up on whole milk!

Furthermore, K2 is required for the production of myelin, a substance that insulates nerve endings in the brain and spinal cord. Several studies have confirmed that oligodendrocytes, the cells responsible for the production of myelin, are deficient in individuals with autism! So if you’re autistic, you may benefit from whole milk dairy even more!

Lastly, healthy gut bacteria are crucial to the conversion process of vitamin K2, which is why it’s important to eat a wide variety of foods and incorporate supplements that aid in gut health. Personally, I love Nuzest’s probiotic protein powders and Further Food’s collagen and gelatin, both of which I seriously cannot go a day without! And if you want to hit two birds with one stone and maximize the K2 absorption WHILE consuming dairy, look for whole milk yogurt or cottage cheese with added probiotics! I personally love Nancy’s brand because it’s a family owned creamery that prioritizes sustainability.

Fatty Acids in Whole Milk

So far, we’ve learned that saturated fat in whole milk does NOT cause high cholesterol or heart disease, we’ve learned about three important vitamins and minerals found most abundantly in whole milk, and now it’s time to discuss two of the key fatty acids found in whole milk! 

One huuuuge benefit of full-fat dairy as opposed to lowfat or nonfat versions, besides everything we’ve discussed already, is that whole milk is high in essential fatty acids including conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and omega-3s, both of which are linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. CLA specifically, which is a type of omega-6 fatty acid, actually helps with the breakdown of fats in the body!

This is why it’s so important to look at the WHOLE picture of food, including sourcing and the context in which it’s being consumed, because even though whole milk may be higher in fatty acids, these exact same fatty acids serve as a natural fat burner once they’re in your body! I believe this is why all the studies done on obesity and whole milk have shown that drinking whole milk actually prevents people from gaining excess weight, because not only did the subjects feel more satisfied with whole milk dairy, but the consumption of the fatty acids themselves increased the subject's metabolism.

So, besides CLA being a natural fat burner, why are essential fatty acids so important? Well, the word essential is of the essence, because unlike nonessential fatty acids that the body produces on its own, essential fatty acids must be obtained through diet. There are two groups of essential fatty acids: the omega 6’s and the omega 3’s. Both are necessary for several important processes in the body, including the formation of healthy cell membranes, proper development of the brain and nervous system, hormone production, and the transport and breakdown of cholesterol, this last one again emphasizing how the cholesterol present in full-fat dairy is modulated by the overall make-up of whole milk!

Organic + Grass-Fed

One really important finding in my research on the fatty acids found in whole milk, is that milk from grass-fed cows has higher levels of CLA + omega 3’s. So, be sure to look for organic milk if you can. I completely understand that not everyone has the budget to shop organic, it’s all about doing your best and prioritizing what matters most to you! I choose organic whole milk and use other supplements such as Nuzest protein and Further Food collagen which can be expensive, but I believe products that optimize my health are an investment, not an expense. It’s the same for my coaching and course! I’m not cheap, because I believe the value of working with me or investing in my course is priceless. I mean I don’t know about you, but I could never attach a price tag to full recovery from an eating disorder!

Anyways, that’s all I have for you today my friend! I hope you enjoyed this post on whole milk and learned as much as I did while researching! If there’s any specific food or supplement you’d want me to do a nutrition edition post on, feel free to send me a DM on Instagram @livlabelfree or send me a message through my contact form. I love creating content around YOUR requests and feedback!

Sources:

  1. 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

  2. Saturated Fat: Part of a Healthy Diet

  3. Vitamins & Minerals in Milk | MilkFacts.info

  4. Milk - Better Health Channel

  5. Vitamins and Minerals | The Nutrition Source | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

  6. Fatty acids in bovine milk fat - PMC

  7. Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), body fat, and apoptosis

  8. Omega-3 Deficiency Symptoms & How to Get Enough | Camas Swale

  9. Higher PUFA and n-3 PUFA, conjugated linoleic acid, α-tocopherol and iron, but lower iodine and selenium concentrations in organic milk: a systematic literature review and meta- and redundancy analyses

  10. Proper Calcium Use: Vitamin K2 as a Promoter of Bone and Cardiovascular Health - PMC

  11. Multiple Vitamin K Forms Exist in Dairy Foods - PMC

  12. The Synergistic Interplay between Vitamins D and K for Bone and Cardiovascular Health: A Narrative Review

  13. Vitamin K2 Therapy for Postmenopausal Osteoporosis - PMC

  14. Vitamin K2 in multiple sclerosis patients - PMC

  15. Dietary vitamin K is remodeled by gut microbiota and influences community composition - PMC

  16. Fatty acid profiles and antioxidants of organic and conventional milk from low- and high-input systems during outdoor period

  17. The “Grass-Fed” Milk Story: Understanding the Impact of Pasture Feeding on the Composition and Quality of Bovine Milk

  18. Proceedings of the Symposium 'Scientific Update on Dairy Fats and Cardiovascular Diseases

  19. Effect of whole milk compared with skimmed milk on fasting blood lipids in healthy adults: a 3-week randomized crossover study

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