What They Don’t Tell You About Full Fat Dairy

CoachMel Healthy Eating 14 Comments

For years we have been fed lies and/or inaccurate information about what constitutes a healthy diet.

One of the biggest pieces of misinformation we’ve been told is to avoid unhealthy fats, specifically saturated fat.

As a result, the general public have been terrified into thinking if they eat too much saturated fat it will clog the arteries.

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This has led to the mass avoidance of saturated fat. But, has that resulted in a subsequent reduction in heart disease? Absolutely not! In fact, we’re in a worse position now that ever before.

Clearly, something isn’t right!

Vegetable Oils and Margarines

You see, when you reduce your intake of saturated fats like butter, you ultimately replace it with something else.

And, for most people that means a substitute that is much less healthy. Namely, vegetable oils, margarine, and ‘buttery’ spreads.

I would go as far as saying these oils and ‘fake’ fats are some of the most misunderstood and over-recommended foods in our diets these days.

The majority of people don’t even realize they are eating something ultimately worse for them, because these products have been talked-up so much by health professionals.

You’ve probably heard them referred to as “heart healthy oils,” and fully believe they are a good alternative to “artery clogging saturated fats.”

These oils and spreads are supposed to help lower bad cholesterol, and normalize blood pressure, as well as aid weight loss.

The other problem is that when you start eating lower fat foods, you end up consuming lots more added sweeteners.

This is because when you take the fat out of a food, you need to replace it with something, and once again it is being replaced with something less healthy.

Full Fat Dairy is Good for You

If you are still of the opinion that saturated fat is harmful to health, let me remind you, there are no studies which prove conclusively that saturated fat leads to heart disease.

This was also the conclusion of a 2010 meta analysis, which said;

There is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD (coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease).

The truth is, you’ve been lied to for years!

At last though, many experts are pointing to the trans fats found in margarine, vegetable shortening, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils as the true villain. But, must of the misinformation about saturated fat continues to be repeated and believed.

Here are some of the reasons why full fat dairy foods are good for you;

  • Butterfat is a great source of easily absorbed vitamin A. It also contains the fat-soluble vitamins D, E and K2.
  • Butterfat is a source of trace minerals, including manganese, chromium, zinc, copper, selenium, and iodine.
  • Milk, cheese (and meat) from grass fed cattle is a good source of omega 3 fats.
  • When dairy products come from grass fed cows they contain high levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) — a compound that helps your body build muscle rather than store fat, amongst other things.
  • When you eat fat as part of your meals and snacks it helps to slow down absorption, and this means you feel fuller for longer.

The Research on Dairy

The scientific research also indicates that full fat dairy may help reduce your risk of;

1. Diabetes

Palmitoleic acid, occurs naturally in full fat dairy products and meat, and it is protective against insulin resistance and diabetes.

One study noted that people who consumed full fat dairy had higher trans-palmitoleate levels, and that higher trans-palmitoleate levels were associated with;

  • Slightly lower body fat
  • Higher HDL cholesterol levels
  • Lower triglyceride levels
  • Lower total cholesterol:HDL cholesterol ratio
  • Lower C-reactive protein levels
  • Lower insulin resistance. Trans-palmitoleate was also associated with a substantially lower incidence of diabetes

The researchers concluded;

Our findings may explain previously observed metabolic benefits of dairy consumption.

2. Cancer

Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is a fat found naturally in cow’s milk, may help to lower the risk of cancer.

In one study, researchers looked at women who had 4+ servings of high fat dairy foods per day, including whole milk, full fat cultured milk, cheese, cream, sour cream, and butter, and found they had a 41 percent lower risk of colon cancer than those who ate less than one serving.

The authors concluded;

These prospective data suggest that high intakes of high-fat dairy foods and CLA may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.

3. Heart Disease

In another study, researchers found that those who consumed the most full fat dairy were actually less likely to die from heart disease;

Overall intake of dairy products was not associated with mortality.

As I’ve also said, butter contains nutrients like vitamins A, D, K2, and E, lecithin, iodine and selenium. These have a protective effect against heart disease.

4. Overweight

There are a number of studies which suggest regular consumption of dairy foods can have a positive effect on body composition.

Interestingly, one study found that women who ate at least one serving of full fat dairy each day gained 30 percent less weight over a nine year period than women who consumed only low or no fat dairy products.

Also, a recent study in children showed that  1 percent skimmed milk drinkers had higher BMI scores than their counterparts drinking 2 percent milk.

What to Avoid: Margarine, Shortening and Buttery Spreads

Vegetable oils (and margarine made from these oils) are extracted from seeds, such as rapeseed (canola oil), soybean (soybean oil), corn, sunflower, safflower, etc. Basically, the oil is forced from these seeds through a chemical process.

This is very different to the much more natural process of making butter.

As an interesting comparison, take a look at the following two processes…

1. How Canola Oil is Made

That is unbelievably vile!

If you want to avoid vegetable oils, you’ll need to avoid all processed foods, since these oils are used in practically every processed food, from salad dressing, to mayonnaise, to cookies and potato chips.

2. How Butter is Made

I’ll take my chances with the butter, thank you very much!

Which Dairy to Purchase

Grass fed dairy is the most nutritious option, in comparison to dairy products which come from grain fed cattle. Unfortunately, the majority of US produced dairy comes from grain fed cattle.

Also, the health benefits I’ve been discussing relate to full fat dairy foods, not skim, 0%, or 1% reduced fat varieties of milk, yogurts, and cheeses.

Remember, it is the butterfat which contains these beneficial components.

When you remove most of the butterfat in dairy foods, you remove many of the nutrients, and even though they are often synthetically added back in again, it just isn’t as good for you.

I cannot stress enough the need to go for the version the cow creates, not the dairy industry’s inferior version.

So, what dairy foods should you go for?

  • Best case: raw, full fat, grass fed, organic dairy products, straight from your local farmer. The Campaign For Real Milk website is really helpful, with information on where you can find raw dairy sources in your area.
  • Dairy products made from grass fed milk (for example products from Europe, Irish butter such as Kerrygold, or the Abernethy Butter Company, here in Northern Ireland).
  • Pasteurized butter from supermarkets, rather than margarine or buttery spreads.
  • Good choices of cheese include mature cheddar, feta and gouda.
  • Natural, unsweetened yogurt (organic or grass fed, if possible).
  • Fermented milks, such as kefir or Indian Lassi.

What you should avoid;

  • Flavored yogurts, which are loaded with sugar or artificial sweeteners.
  • Heavily processed cheeses, such as cheese spreads, cheese strings, or cheese wrapped in plastic sleeves.

If you’re really keen on getting back to basics, you could have a go at making your own butter. I love this idea, but doubt I would ever have the time to do it regularly.

Check out Positron.org, for step-by-step instructions on making your own butter using grass fed milk.

At the end of it all, my message is the same as it always is… choose foods that are close to nature, and you won’t go far wrong.

I don’t recommend eating saturated fats with abandon, but moderate amounts of butter to cook with, or eating cheese as a snack, etc. is absolutely fine.


What are your thoughts on eating full fat dairy products?

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Comments 14

  1. George

    Great points! I actually wrote a similar piece saying there is hardly any link between dietary fat and cholesterol. I did find one or two studies that found in diabetics eating too many eggs may increase cholesterol but it was a week conclusion at best. Over time more people we realize that saturated fat may not need to be avoided. It’s the high amounts of sugar and HFCS that causes a lot of today’s problems.

  2. Laura

    Great article. One year ago I was eating low fat yoghurts, skimmed milk and depriving myself of cheese! Discovering the truth about fat has changed my life a bit so this article is fab and needs to get out there to everyone!

  3. deigote

    I’m confused. This also applies to virgin olive oil? I’ve always heard that extra virgin olive oil was one of the healthiest forms of fat. In the mediterranean diet, which is supposed to be quite healthy, is very common to use it to dress salads as well as for cooking. Is that a bad idea? Just wondering.

    1. George

      Olive oil has unsaturated fat which is undoubtedly healthy and there is no question about that. This articles is focusing on saturated fat which is believed by many to be unhealthy. The point Melanie is making is that there is a very weak correlation between saturated fat and bad health. I’ve personally read studies that fail to prove that the saturated fat in dairy or eggs is harmful.

      1. deigote

        Yes, I understood what’s the article about. The problem is that northamerican diestist usually talk about vegetable oils as a package, and that is what got me confused – I guess olive oil is a vegetable oil as well :).

        Don’t get me wrong, I’m not discussing but trying to get my head clear – I’m from Spain and here olive oil is one of the most basic foods (I don’t know a single person who uses butter for cooking). I know this is not the situation in other countries and that’s probably why this clarification is not always made :).

  4. Nicola

    Interesting article. Replacing saturated fats with refined carbohydrates does not lower the risk of heart diesase, it increases it. But I don’t believe we should be replacing oils with butter. There is some reaseach that shows full fat milk and cheese don’t cause increases in cholesterol, but there isn’t evidence for butter. Cholesterol is one risk factor for heart disease but there are lots of other risk factors involved. I think it’s important to look at a whole diet approach also. The Mediterranean diet is low in saturated fats and is shown protective against heart disease. This is a good article that I reccomend people read.

  5. Jonathan

    Good article. I hope the author doesn’t mind some other related articles.




    Very good podcast from an expert on fats.


    Last but not least is a great infographic on healthy fats.


    I love this high-seafood Paleo template.

    Some interesting links about dairy.




    Love giving people information.

  6. nick

    Hey, Great article once again. I recently did a reflection similar to this called ‘Butter vs Margarine’ for my Dietetics post grad. Like you I am worried about the current health drive to consume more more vegetable oils. Polyunsaturated fats are unstable and oxidise easier (even through just processing) and especially when used for cooking, whereas saturated fats are stable. Health professionals and government guidelines where wrong when they recommended hydrogenated oils instead of saturated fat, something they never admitted or apologised for. They are again repeating past mistakes not learning from hindsight. With the above comments in mind, olive oil is different as its predominantly monounsaturated and therefore more stable so is great and healthy used in salads, however I still wouldn’t cook with it at high temperatures because one; it has a relatively low smoking point and two; its very expensive compared to butter, lard ect.
    With you again with this article, why would something natural be bad for you, these foods are great sources of nutrients as you say and just as important in an obesogenic environment is that they are self limiting (unlike most process junk).

    1. deigote

      Great info, thanks! I was expecting this kind of clarification that makes a great addition to the already great original article :).

      The price doesn’t concern me (I guess in Spain olive oil is not as expensive since it’s locally produced), I always buy extra virgin olive oil for my cooking. But again I have problems discerning what should be considered “high heat”. I mean, I never eat fried stuff, so no worries there, but I use olive oil to cook steaks or vegetables in the griddle, as well as omelettes, etc. Should I consider this as high heat cooking? My guess is no, since is usually a slow form of cooking, but I’m not sure how to measure it…

      1. nick

        Olive oil is a lot more expensive in the UK so if this doesn’t effect you then great. My preference is butter or olive oil for grilling/ roasting vegetable for the taste but lard for light frying because what I said above and it covers the pan nicely and protects it. It sounds to me you have nothing to worry about with your cocking methods. The mediterranean diet is know for its health benefits, relatively high in fat but is dominated by mono-unsaturated fats not processed poly-unsaturated fats

  7. Sarah

    I had refrained, no, deprived myself from butter, cheese, full fat mil or yoghurts for years until I got wise! I am just as healthy – if not healthier….my cholesterol has decreased over the last 2 years….not increased as you’d expect with a fuller fat eating plan.

  8. Jen

    I’ve been reading quite a few things about this recently and it seem all the choices I thought were healthy may not be and all the things I’ve been avoiding may actually be better for me. I’ve recently switched to skimmed milk and I’ve since heard that full fat may actually be better for you. Thank you for the post as it helps make some sense of things.

  9. Pingback: 7 Low Fat Foods That Are Actually Bad For You

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