Full Fat or Low Fat Dairy?

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If you are totally against low-fat dairy, it’s time to take a closer look at the research. After listening to this dairy debate and watching the finger pointing, I started searching through the literature for an answer to this question “does dairy fat increase LDL cholesterol and risk for cardiovascular disease?” Then I came to my senses. No one eats dairy fat. Unless you’re a food scientist, you aren’t separating the fat from milk or full-fat yogurt and eating it or adding it as an ingredient to your recipes. However, we do eat cheese and yogurt and drink milk. The array of compounds in each of these foods influences how they affect your cholesterol and risk for heart disease. So, I revised the question to: “how does full fat cheese, yogurt and milk impact cholesterol and risk for heart disease?”

Here’s what I’ll cover in this article:

  • Why people are up in arms about saturated fat – saying it is either good or bad;
  • How does full fat cheese, yogurt and milk impact cholesterol;
  • What should you do with this information?

Dairy Fat isn’t the Only Factor

The research on dairy generally follows the research on saturated fat: the replacement strategy matters. For instance, it isn’t a good idea to take cheese out of your diet and replace it with a highly refined carbohydrate (not a good move for blood fats). Butter isn’t better than liquid oil. Butter raises LDL cholesterol. Some research suggests dairy fat might raise the large, less artery clogging LDL cholesterol compared to small dense LDL. However, “less artery clogging” does not mean “not artery clogging” and this area of the science needs more work before we can draw firm conclusions. Also, there are a few differences based on the type of food (milk, cheese, yogurt, butter); aged cheese reigns.

dairy and cheddar cheese

-> Aged cheese does not raise LDL as much as butter (accounting for total fat in each). In fact, several studies show aged cheese appears to have a “relatively minor” impact on LDL cholesterol or no impact at all. This could be due to the calcium content, which leads to the excretion of some fat or, fermentation may have an effect. Aged cheese stands out in the research.

-> Yogurt appears to have less of a cholesterol raising effect than expected. However this research is inconsistent possibly due to differences in the type of bacteria in the yogurt (aka probiotics). I recommend choosing yogurt with “live and active cultures.”

– > Milk – when consuming the same amount of fat from whole milk or butter, both raise LDL to the same extent. Milk contributes substantially less total fat per amount consumed compared to full fat yogurt and butter. Cross-sectional studies suggest milk consumption doesn’t raise coronary artery disease risk, however, this may reflect lower total fat intake from milk compared to butter.

-> Cottage cheese –  this incredible food is oftentimes forgotten yet an excellent addition to your diet. I couldn’t find any studies on cottage cheese, however, the highest fat cottage cheese I could find  (4% milk fat) contained 5 g total fat per serving so we can expect the impact cottage cheese may have a lower impact compared to whole milk.

What Should You Do with this Information?

If your LDL is high, choose skim, 1% or low fat milk. Opt for a good quality yogurt with naturally occurring probiotics. As far as cheese goes – I’d take out all of the other offending foods and work on other aspects of heart health before ditching the cheese (unless your LDL is very high) and cottage cheese. However, always follow the dietary advice of your registered dietitian since there are many variables that should be taken into consideration.

What about the trans fats in dairy? They are good for you right? No. In large amounts, the trans fats in dairy have the same impact as those found in partially hydrogenated oil (not good for cholesterol, cardiovascular disease risk etc.). However, we don’t eat dairy trans fats in significant quantities (they make up very tiny amounts of dairy fat and beef fat).

Take Home Points

In general, dairy foods help lower blood pressure plus there is emerging evidence about the positive role dairy foods may play in metabolic syndrome. What about dairy fat? Consider the whole food and your diet overall so you can make the right choices based on your personal risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Also, keep in mind there are many factors that influence cardiovascular disease pathology, some of which are unrelated to cholesterol.

References

Tholstrup T, Hoy CE, Andersen LN, Christensen RD, Sandstrom B. Does fat in milk, butter and cheese affect blood lipids and cholesterol differently? J Am Coll Nutr 2004;23:169–76.

Hjerpsted J, Leedo E, Tholstrup T. Cheese intake in large amounts lowers LDL-cholesterol concentrations compared with butter intake of equal fat content. Am J Clin Nutr 2011;94:1479–84.

Biong AS, Muller H, Seljeflot I, Veierod MB, Pedersen JI. A comparison of the effects of cheese and butter on serum lipids, haemostatic variables and homocysteine. Br J Nutr 2004;92:791–7.

Nestel P. Effects of Dairy Fats within Different Foods on Plasma Lipids. J Am Coll Clin Nutr 2008, 27(6): 735S–740S.

Thorning TK et al. Diets with high-fat cheese, high-fat meat, or carbohydrate on cardiovascular risk markers in overweight postmenopausal women: a randomized crossover trial. Am J Clin Nutr 2015.

Labonté MÈ et al. Dairy product consumption has no impact on biomarkers of inflammation among men and women with low-grade systemic inflammation. J Nutr 2014;144(11):1760-7.

Sjogren P et al. Milk-derived fatty acids are associated with a more favorable LDL particle size distribution in healthy men. J Nutr 2004;134(7):1729-35.

Hodson L, Skeaff CM, Chisholm WA. The effect of replacing dietary saturated fat with polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fat on plasma lipids in free-living young adults. Eur J Clin Nutr 2001; 55(10):908-15

Soerensen KV et al. Effect of dairy calcium from cheese and milk on fecal fat excretion, blood lipids, and appetite in young men. Am J Clin Nutr 2014;99(5):984-91.

Grebe A, Latz E. Cholesterol crystals and inflammation. Curr Rheumatol Rep 2013;15(3):313.

 

 

Grass Fed Lies: The Truth about Organic Milk & Grass Fed Beef

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Grass fed meat

If you’ve been sucking up the extra cost of organic dairy products and grass fed beef, comforted by the fact that you’re doing what’s good for your body, I have some news for you: you’ve gained little more than peace of mind grounded in a marketing scam. There is no meaningful nutrition difference in organic milk, grass fed beef and their conventional (non organic / grass fed) counterparts.

The Truth about Organic Dairy

Organic milk is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, iron and vitamin D, according to an article published Feb. 16 in the British Journal of Nutrition. This meta-analysis examined the results from 170 published studies comparing the nutrient content of organic milk with conventional milk. They suggest organic milk wins by a landslide: it’s nutritionally superior to its conventional counterparts. Though there were no significant differences in saturated fat and monounsaturated fat in organic vs. conventional milk, organic milk has 56% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, 41% more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), significantly more vitamin E and iron than conventional milk. Statistically speaking, they are scientifically correct. Nutritionally speaking, these differences are meaningless.

Organic milk contains 56% more omega-3 fats than regular (conventional) milk (56% more based on the total fat content). However, statistically more than a little bit is still a little bit. Milk is not considered a major source of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet, regardless of milk type. In fact, according to one study, 1 cup of organic whole milk has about 8.2 mg of the omega-3 fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and 11 mg of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) compared to 6.2 mg of EPA and 9.1 mg of DHA. That’s a far cry from the 250 – 500 mg of EPA + DHA we should get, on average, each day. Fatty fish are the best way to get EPA and DHA.

milk jug
Organic Milk:
19 mg EPA + DHA

Conventional Milk:
15 mg EPA + DHA

 

 

 

Salmon

Herring, Wild
Salmon, Farmed (Atlantic)
Salmon, Wild (King)
Mackerel, Wild

1,200 mg EPA + DHA

 

 

  • EPA and DHA are heart smart – they lower blood fats (triglycerides) and blood pressure. Plus they’re good for your brain and eyes.

What about CLA? CLA is group of polyunsaturated fatty acids found in meat and milk. There are many proposed benefits associated with CLA including changes in body fat with ultra high supplemental doses of CLA. However, the difference in CLA content is also biologically meaningless – 56 mg in a glass of organic whole milk and 47 mg in a class of conventional whole milk.

The British Journal of Nutrition research also showed slightly higher beta carotene and vitamin E in organic milk. These very small differences may be due to a host of reasons including seasonal variation and breed. Milk is not a major source of these nutrients, so this has no biological impact on human health. If you want iron, eat more red meat, fish and poultry or plant-based sources including beans, lentils and peas (eat these with a vitamin C rich food to increase the absorption of plant-based iron). For vitamin E your best bets are oils, nuts and seeds.

  • Key point: statistical significance ≠ biological relevance.

What about antibiotics and hormones in dairy? I covered that in another blog post. You can read more about it here.

Is Grass Fed Beef Better?

If you’re one of many Americans paying a premium for grass fed beef because it contains more omega-3s and less saturated fat than it’s unassuming conventional counterparts, it may be time to reconsider where you’re spending your grocery money.

The omega-3s in grass fed beef are different than the kind in fatty fish. Fatty fish and algae contain EPA and DHA. There’s a third omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), found in plants including walnuts, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds and chia seeds. Grass fed beef contains ALA because flaxseeds are added to their feed. While EPA and DHA lower blood fats (triglycerides) and are tied to heart benefits, ALA does not lower blood fats and is not associated with the same heart health benefits. ALA rich foods also contain a variety of other bioactive compounds that may act independently or synergistically to improve cardiovascular disease risk factors (eat the whole food not just ALA). The human body can convert ALA to EPA and DHA but this conversion process is inefficient. Less than 4% of ALA is converted to EPA and less than 1% makes its way to DHA. ALA ≠EPA + DHA. A 5-ounce serving of grass fed beef contains a whopping 20 to 30 mg of ALA (slight variations in brands of grass fed beef based on the cow’s diet). The Adequate Intake for ALA is 1,600 and 1,100 grams per day for adult men and women, respectively. Eat grass fed beef and you’ll get 2 – 3% of the AI for ALA for men and 1-2% for women.

Grass fed beef and conventional beef have the same amount of saturated fat with some differences in the types of saturated fatty acids. The difference in CLA content of grass fed and conventional beef is tiny. According to a review from Dave et al. (Nutr J 2010;9:10), it ranges from 0.13 – 2.65 (grams CLA/100 grams of fat in the meat) in conventional meat and 0.43 – 5.14 (grams CLA/100 grams of fat in the meat) in grass fed beef depending on the cow and feed. So, you could be getting less total CLA in certain cuts of grass fed beef than conventional beef. 

What about the Bacteria in Conventional Beef?
You cook your beef right? Bacteria is killed during cooking. Moot point.

Is Grass Fed More Sustainable? What about Hormones and Antibiotics?
I will address this and other issues in the next post. Stay tuned….

Organic dairy products and grass fed beef come in beautiful, higher end packaging with natural hues of green and brown outlining their superiority to modest looking products that sit beside them on store shelves. If you love the taste, stick with your organic milk and grass fed beef. But don’t buy into the marketing hype.

References

Circulation 2011;123(20):2292-333.
British Journal of Nutrition 2016;115:1043–1060.
PLoS One 2013; 8(12): e82429.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2001;74:612–9.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1999;69:890–7.
British Medical Journal 1996;313:84–90.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2009;89(5):1649S-56S.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2006;83(6):S1526-1535.
PLoS One. 2013; 8(12): e82429.
Nutrition Journal 2010, 9:10.

 

 

 

 

Lighten Up Over the Holidays: Healthier Holiday Eating

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Gisselle Marie Rosa, UGA M.S. student

With the holiday season here, many Americans are faced with a very difficult decision: should I dive into that second serving of glazed ham and mashed potatoes delicately covered with a blanket of gravy or put the rest away for later? At this time of year, family and friends often gather together around the dinner table, sharing comfort food and stories while celebrating the holidays. But, let’s face the facts, many holiday foods aren’t the healthiest options. According to a recently published study, most Americans gain 0.5 kilograms, or about 1 pound, of weight during the holiday season.Overweight and obese individuals gain more than than those who are healthy weight.

But, if it’s only 1 measly pound over the holidays, then what’s the big deal?

While it seems that gaining 1 pound isn’t a big deal, the same study showed that most individuals don’t shed that pound over the next year. So over time those measly pounds tend to add up, increasing the individual’s risk for becoming overweight or obese.

Does this mean that you can’t eat your favorite holiday dishes?

Absolutely not! This is a special time and it is OK to enjoy the foods you love. However, there are some ways that you can modify your favorite dishes to make them more nutritious but still keep the familiar flavor that you love. Here are some tips to lighten up your holiday favorites:

  1. Appetizers/Dipping Sauces
    1. Chips, creamy dips, fried cheese sticks, potato skins, buffalo chicken poppers, you name it. These tasty snacks are one of the biggest calorie-packing culprits during the holidays. If appetizers are on the menu, opt for fresh vegetables dipped in a light ranch sauce or whole wheat pita chips dipped in a low-fat yogurt dip. Plenty of flavor, fewer calories.
  2. Mashed Potatoes
    1. This creamy dish is the quintessential holiday companion to any entrée, but many people make mashed potatoes with cheese, heavy cream, and plenty of butter. Try substituting the heavy cream for skim milk and chicken broth or roasted garlic for extra flavor while keeping the creamy texture of the potatoes.
  3. Latkes
    1. Potato Latkes are an essential part of every Hanukkah celebration, but these fried pillows of potatoes can really add a lot of fat to the holiday meal. Try mixing white and sweet potatoes to add extra vitamins and minerals to your dish. Also, make sure to use healthy oils such as olive oil to sauté the latkes instead of butter!
  4. Vegetable Casseroles
    1. While delicious, these creamy concoctions are typically filled with extra cheese, creamy condensed soups, and overcooked vegetables. Upgrade your favorite vegetable casseroles by substituting canned vegetables with frozen vegetables to decrease the sodium. Additionally, substituting some of the fried onions with slivered almonds keeps the familiar crunch while switching to low-fat cheese cuts out some of the fat and calories (or use less of a more flavorful cheese).
  5. Baked Goods
    1. Dessert during the holidays is definitely a must! A great way to cut the fat and the calories from your favorite baked goods is by substituting the oil with applesauce. Applesauce adds lots of moisture and becomes almost flavorless, making it a versatile ingredient.

Making healthy choices during the holidays may seem like a sacrifice, but it does not have to be! Done right, you can enjoy your favorite holiday comfort foods without packing on the calories or the pounds.

References

Schoeller DA. The effect of holiday weight gain on body weight. Physiology and Behavior 2014;134:66-69.