I am a fan of science! Science is an integral part of advancing society, learning and quality of life for billions of people. Science holds the promise for new discoveries, less suffering and a better world. Science is Awesome! Science is also not perfect. Sometimes science leads us down a path that needs to be revisited and revised. Such is the tale of whole milk — demonized for decades, believed to be loaded with killer fats, but on closer analysis, not only is whole milk not bad for you, in fact, studies have shown that people who drink whole milk have lower rates of heart disease than people who drink low-fat or skim milk. As sometimes happens with science, it appears that nutrition, and biology are not as straight forward as we thought they were.
The misconception that whole milk is bad for you seems logical… it contains saturated fats and saturated fats increase “bad” cholesterol and bad cholesterol contributes to heart disease. Therefore, whole milk is bad, right? Theoretically, yes?…. In reality, most people who stay away from whole milk replace those saturated fats with carbohydrates a.k.a. sugar. Add to this new research shows that saturated fats can also boost “good” cholesterol, which actually protects you against heart disease.
Consider the butter / margarine myth – for years “nutrition experts” told us through 30 second TV spots that we should avoid evil butter and replace it with much healthier margarine (For the record, I always knew it wasn’t butter). We substituted one of nature’s most natural and complete foods, along with eggs, with a highly processed and altered version of unsaturated oil.
So why is it better to eat foods your grandma would recognize? Look at what we end up with when we take the fat out of milk – essentially, we get more sugar, since the concentration of lactose is higher (basic math). We now recognize that sugar intake is a way more serious nutritional issue than fat. Added to the increased sugar, many people don’t actually reduce the amount of fat in their diets as they are eating other forms through high oil snack foods, or, heaven forbid, soy or almond “beverages”. What actually happens is you fool yourself into thinking you are eating healthier and, in the end you pay twice for the same fat! The other thing to keep in mind about whole milk – it is delicious! It’s not really even fair to compare it against the lower fat options. Also, with whole milk, you tend to drink less of it since it’s more filling and satisfying.
So with all of the scientific advancements, what do we know about nutrition? Get ready, it’s pretty complicated… Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Exercise. That’s really the bottom line and we don’t need to constantly divide the nutritional landscape into good and evil nutrients. The problem with this approach to eating is that, as soon as you demonize one nutrient – say, fat – you give a free pass to another – say, carbs. This has been referred to as the Snackwell’s phenomenon, after a line of no-fat junk food in the 1980’s. Since these cookies, crackers and chips didn’t contain any of the evil nutrient, fat, it gave consumers licence to eat whole bags at one sitting. The end result of this food trend was that total consumption of fat actually stayed the same while consumption of carbs and sugar skyrocketed. This is a scientific approach that’s a great way to sell food, since you can market the absence of evil nutrients, but not necessarily a good way to eat demonstrated by a society that got dramatically fatter during the years of low-fat dieting.
Happily for those of us that enjoy whole milk, eggs, bacon and the multitude of tasty animal fats, science still has a long way to go….