I was planning to write up a discussion on fat and it’s place in nutrition (well, as well as I understand it) in a couple of weeks. But then I saw this article, and I thought I had better get on it. The problem is that a Connecticut law would forbid childcare centers from giving children 2% or whole milk. Reading this article actually made me kind of sad–how is it that policy makers can make laws with such far-reaching effects without studying the new research on nutrition (you know, what they are legislating). While the claim that 2% or whole milk is in fact better for the average lactose-tolerant person flies in the face of conventional nutrition wisdom, there is mounting evidence that skim milk is not the healthy choice we were all lead to believe it was some time in the 1990s.
The author lays out a lot of information that I am familiar with (after having read wonderful books like In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan and Real Food by Nina Planck)–for instance, that skim milk contributes to the amount of oxidized cholesterol in the blood rather than lowers cholesterol and that all the processing and adding back vitamins destroyed in processing still fails because vitamins A and D require fat to be properly metabolized.The article goes on to site two studies that correlates drinking skim milk as a child to later weight gain–one of these studies fails to find the same connection in children drinking 2% or whole milk.
So, full-fat dairy, full-steam ahead?
Not’s so fast. Not all milk is created equal. Milk produced by cattle fattened on grain has a different nutrient makeup than grass-fed cow’s milk. While the meat from grass-fed cattle tends to be less tender than cuts from their feed-lot counter parts, however they contain different fat compositions (1). One of these (saturated) fats is stearic acid, which is known to fight cancer (2). There are other properties of milk that are highly variable based on what the cow has eaten and where she was raised (a dairy terroir, if you will), but ultimately the grass-fed cow is eating a more optimal diet and thus her milk is healthier for you and for me.
Besides that, most know about how poisons build up in the tissues (and especially fats) of those higher up on the food chain. That means that if a particular pesticide or additive to the grain the cows eat is questionable, there is a higher concentration of that chemical in the cow’s fat than on the grain itself. This is a great argument for trying to get any sort of dairy or meat products from a source you trust and looking into exactly what different labels mean (for instance, all-natural is not an FDA regulated term and can be thrown about, willy-nilly).
The sooner you can switch to traditional, grass-fed dairy and animal products, the sooner you can begin to enjoy the benefits of full fat milk in conjunction with the increased nutrition value of products from properly feed cows.
The bottom line is this: less processed food is pretty much always the way to go and, especially in the case of animal products, try to get products that have the least build up of pesticides, herbicides, and the other -icides in order to protect yourself (and your family) from the negative consequences of industrial agriculture practices.
(2) Khan AA, Alanazi AM, Jabeen M, Chauhan A, Abdelhameed AS. Design, synthesis and in vitro anticancer evaluation of a stearic acid-based ester conjugate. Anticancer Research. 2013 Jun;33(6):2517-24.