If you think full fat dairy is the unhealthy option, it’s time to think again
Like most women I have always been conscious of my weight, read up on diets, followed fads and generally gone from pillar to post trying to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle. But I’ve had a revelation of recent years, which is that my weight is down to me, not my diet. And my diet doesn’t need to be extreme, costly or boring to work. Healthy eating for me is quality over quantity and as such I have started looking into different types of food, the benefits of those food groups and experimenting with what I eat to see what works for me. And guess what? I eat fat! In fact, I always eat full fat foods as I’ve learned that eating a full fat diet is actually one of the best ways to maintain a healthy weight and get the nutrients I need for a healthy body. Now whilst I’m not suggesting we fill our faces with the stuff, it seems there are far more benefits to eating full fat dairy products rather than the low fat options.
Do you routinely opt for a skinny latte, choose low fat yoghurt, or feel guilty when you eat cheese? If so then you probably think that you’re making the best choice for your health and your waistline, but it may be that the complete opposite is true. Even though we’ve been encouraged for years to eat low fat dairy, or even avoid it altogether, many scientists now believe this advice to be wrong. It seems that, rather than being bad for us, full fat dairy products may actually deliver all the benefits we had hoped to get from choosing the low fat options.
Far from making you fat and unhealthy, people who routinely consume full fat dairy not only weigh less than those that choose low fat options or avoid dairy, but they are also less likely to get diabetes, and are no more likely to develop heart disease.
To those of us brought up on the ‘low fat good, no fat better’ mantra, it comes as something of a surprise to learn that full fat dairy could actually be the better choice for long term weight management.
There are a number of reasons put forward as to why this might be the case –
- When we reduce the amount of fat we eat we tend to replace it with unhealthy sugary, carbohydrate laden alternatives
- Full fat dairy makes us feel fuller for longer, so we’re far less likely to consume more calories overall
- Full fat dairy products naturally contain less lactose (milk sugar) than low fat options, and they tend not to contain the added sugars used to make low fat options palatable, so by choosing full fat we’re also likely to consume less sugar in total
- The fat in dairy may have a direct effect on keeping weight off by improving the ability of your liver and muscles to break down the sugars in food rather than simply turning them into body fat
It also turns out that a diet containing full fat dairy can actually help to prevent people developing Type II diabetes, a condition that has become more and more common in the last few years. It’s thought that the fats in dairy products play a role in metabolising glucose and controlling insulin sensitivity, while the low fat options available (with the added sugar) don’t seem to offer the same protective qualities, in fact they offer no specific health benefits at all.
So not only do manufacturers add sugar to low fat options to make them more appealing in taste, they also have to add back the vitamins that are stripped out when they remove the fat! Full fat dairy naturally contains vitamins A and D, which are vital for our health and wellbeing but in the low fat versions, which have had the majority of fat removed, it has to be added back in during the manufacturing process.
Finally there is growing evidence that eating saturated fats doesn’t raise cholesterol levels or lead to heart disease, so consuming full fat dairy makes you no more likely to get heart disease than someone who avoids it.
The healthier option?
Viewing fat as uniformly ‘bad’ may have caused many of us to miss out on the health benefits of the fat found naturally in dairy products. None of this means that we should treat all fats as equal, or eat cheese all day long much as we may like to! But it’s time we took a different view of naturally occurring fats like those found in whole milk, as well as other naturally fatty foods like avocados, coconuts, eggs, good quality meats, fish and nuts.
Ultimately we all have to decide what we want to eat and what makes us feel good, but the better informed we are, the better able we are to make those decisions. If you’d like to read more about this topic, the following articles discuss the benefits of full fat dairy in more detail and may help you make up your mind whether or not to switch back to full fat versions of your favourite dairy products.
I for one, have been eating a big fat dairy diet for some years now, and will continue to do so. My weight is more stable than it has ever been, and I genuinely do feel fuller for longer by eating this way. I rarely snack between meals and I believe it’s down to eating a diet with good fat in it. Nothing beats full fat natural yoghurt for breakfast with a handful of blueberries and a sprinkling of flaxseed. Full fat? Yes, bring it on!
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