The Skinny on Why You Need Full-Fat Dairy

By: Carla Meine CFNC

| June 15, 2021

As part of the More Than Healthy coaching program, we can help clients achieve optimal health through a phased approach to functional nutrition. An elimination protocol can be life-changing as you learn which foods can heal your body, and which foods your body is sensitive to.

Slowly adding foods back while monitoring and tracking results allows you to figure out exactly what your body needs (and cannot tolerate) in order to feel your very best every day. 

In Level 4 of our elimination protocol, we carefully reintroduce full-fat dairy into the meal plan. My clients are usually really looking forward to being able to have some dairy again, and some of them find they can tolerate dairy just fine. But dairy tends to be tricky, and there is a reason it is the last food group we add back to our diets when doing an elimination food tracking plan. Pay attention to how you feel as you start eating dairy again. Your body will let you know which dairy products you can–and can’t–handle.

This careful reintroduction of dairy also requires the careful selection of dairy products. Many of my clients have been used to sticking with low-fat dairy products when it comes to their milk, cheese, and yogurt choices. They are surprised when we preach ‘full-fat’ here at More Than Healthy. But there are many important reasons we want you to keep the skim milk and low-fat cheese out of your cart.

The Low-Fat Lie

Let’s start with a little history lesson. In the early ‘70s, American consumers were starting to hear the message that fats–especially the full-fats and saturated fats in meat and dairy products–were the “primary nutritional evil in the American diet.” For the next 30 years, this was the message blasted with almost religious certainty by everyone from the surgeon general on down. Our food industry, which spends nearly $14 billion a year in advertising, sang it from the rooftops. We believed this message we heard on repeat, that obesity is caused by the excessive consumption of fat. 

So we started avoiding fats. We bought low-fat milk, salad dressing, peanut butter, and avoided egg yolks like the plague. And, we got fatter. By the end of the ‘80s, nearly one in four Americans was obese. The number of overweight children nearly tripled. In the decades following, these numbers have continued to rise. 

For the first time ever, physicians started diagnosing what was then called adult-onset diabetes in young adolescents. This required the name change we still know it by today, Type 2 diabetes. Anyone with a dissenting voice, like Dr. Atkins, who preached full-fat but low carb, was vilified and called a quack and a fraud. Thus began the onset of the obesity epidemic in America. 

Remove the Fat, Add Sugar

The low-fat craze continued when a few studies in the 1990s linked fat to heart disease. Store shelves were filled with low-fat, fat-free, and reduced-fat versions of nearly every food available. The problem is, they don’t simply remove fat from these products. “The fat is typically replaced with sugar, sodium, additives, preservatives, or thickeners to create a similar taste, texture, and consistency,” Tracy Lesht, MS, RD, told Fox News in an interview from 2017. “This process turns the once full-fat food into a heavily processed low-fat item with a slew of added ingredients.”

Sugar content tends to be higher in foods marked low-fat and naturally lower in full-fat foods. Research proves that consuming even slightly higher sugar counts leads to weight gain, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Also, people also tend to eat more–as much as 50% more–of a food labeled ‘low-fat,’ and low-fat foods aren’t any lower in calories. 

What We Know Now About Full-Fat

Experts now agree that we made a decades-long mistake in this obsession with low-fat foods. Saturated fats aren’t as bad as we were taught. And there are many fats that are good for you, essential, even, like the fats found in nuts, olive, oil, and avocados. These fats help control blood sugar. They tell your brain when you’re feeling full. That’s why we encourage clients to use plenty of healthy oils (avocado, flax, hemp, EVOO, MCT, etc.) in every level of their food plan. 

These healthy fats help provide us with energy, support our cell growth, and protect our organs. They even help our bodies to stay warm. Our bodies require essential fatty acids in order to absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K, and to help produce hormones. Plus, if you eliminate fat altogether, it is much harder to feel either satisfied or full from the food you consume.

Why Full-Fat in Dairy Matters

For all of you who have spent your life buying skim milk, let me explain a bit about the truth we now know about full-fat dairy products. 

Full-Fat Helps Keep the Weight Off

The benefits of full-fat dairy are many, and they include weight loss. One reason for this is that fat is an incredibly satiating nutrient. It fills you up so you’re less likely to snack on other things. People who eat less fat tend to eat more refined carbs and sugar, which are the real problems for our health (and weight). Fat also slows the release of sugars into the bloodstream, which helps prevent overeating. It also helps prevent blood sugar and insulin spikes in the body. In addition, full-fat dairy is also lower in lactose, so it is easier to digest than low-fat or no-fat products. It also helps raise healthy HDL cholesterol levels.

There are many delicious options for incorporating full-fat dairy into your diet. Check out my yummy recipe for Beef Stroganoff, which uses heavy cream and full-fat sour cream. Or, try my recipe for Chicken Alfredo, which incorporates heavy cream and cheese.  

Be Picky About Your Dairy Products 

Here at More Than Healthy, many of the items we recommend are different than the typical dairy you’ve consumed in the past. Full-fat is one important element. I will discuss other important elements, such as A1 and A2 beta-casein proteins, incorporating dairy from other sources (goat, sheep, buffalo, etc.), and why insisting on pasture-raised eggs is vital, in other articles. 

As always, be sure to track your progress carefully when you add dairy back to your diet. Pay attention to how you feel after you eat dairy. Different dairy products might affect you differently. For example, you might be able to add yogurt and hard cheeses back into your diet without issues, but your body might not tolerate other dairy products very well. I have clients who can add full heavy cream to their diet without side effects but struggle with milk of any kind. Everyone is different, and YOU are the expert on your own body. As you continue to journal, you will discover which dairy foods work for you on your journey to becoming “More Than Healthy.”