23 May 2010

Benefits of Full Fat Dairy

For years we've seen advertising from the milk and dairy industry to increase our dairy consumption to help us lose weight. The problem I see is that most of the articles and studies in support of this claim recommend low-fat or even fat-free milk.

Across the board, people claim that skim milk is the best option because it's significantly lower in fat and calories than whole, and still offers the same benefits (vitamins, minerals, etc) as whole, without all those pesky, weight-increasing calories. It seems the world has gotten stuck in calorie counting, and has forgotten that our diets, and our bodies, are SO much more complex than that!

It's not such a simple equation that you eat X calories, and burn Y calories, and ta-da! you lose weight. Our metabolism has the ability to adapt (case in point: Michael Phelps. The man eats 10,000 calories a day. I sincerely doubt he's burning that many on exercise alone; his body in itself burns a large number of calories, even if he just sat on his duff all day) and so I think we should be more concerned with how we're eating, as opposed to how much. When you eat more nutrient-dense foods (and yes folks, fat is considered a nutrient) you're less likely to over-indulge, meaning that although gram for gram there might be more calories in that whole-milk yogurt than in your fat-free frozen yogurt, your body has the ability to stop you before you overeat those calories! Nature is one smart cookie.

Don't get me wrong, when your body only burns say, 1,200 calories and you're eating 3,000 per day, I don't care what you're eating, your body won't adapt to that. But if you eat smarter, your body can do what it needs to do. For instance, eating the right fats will send signals to your brain that you're satisfied. The food you're eating may be more calorie-dense, but if it's a natural, whole food, it will be more nutrient-dense as well, and your body will recognize the signals. When you eat over-processed garbage, your body doesn't know what to do with it; in essence, you're tricking your body by giving it bulk with no substance. And people wonder why they put on weight?

Eating partial- to full-fat dairy is one way to eat smarter, and here are some reasons why:

  • Why do we eat dairy? Primarily, we drink milk or eat yogurt for the calcium. In order to properly absorb calcium, we need Vitamin D, which our body synthesizes from exposure to the sun (side note, sunscreen decreases your ability to produce Vit. D). If you look at a label for a bottle of milk, it will generally state it's been fortified with Vitamin D. Great! But here's the rub: D is a fat-soluble vitamin! In order for your body to benefit from milk's full potential, some fat is necessary! 

  • Calcium in itself can help your body to maintain a healthy weight, and encourages fat-burning. However, studies using supplements (and not whole dairy) don't show this correlation. My personal belief: there's more to the story than calcium alone, so eat your dairy whole!

  • Live-cultures in yogurt are great for digestion, and especially helpful if you are on antibiotics, which can deplete your own natural friendly-bacteria. Women are especially vulnerable to certain infections of certain areas without these helpful bacteria (ask your doctor if you're not sure what I mean).

  • All dairy products contain CLA; you get the most CLA from organic sources. (See my post on organics for more info on CLA)

Basically, it all goes back to my overall philosophy: eating whole foods is going to "do your body good" more than eating select bits of what was once real food, and trying to supplement your diet with pills and other craziness. When it comes to dairy, I'm not necessarily advising you to go to 100% whole milk (although I think cheese and yogurt should be as whole as possible, but that's just me), especially if you're on a strict calorie-counting diet. But I strongly recommend consuming the highest fat dairy you can. And avoid skim at all costs; it's honestly pretty pointless empty calories.

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