Processed Dairy and Low-Fat Dairy-Phobia

I brought this topic up once or twice on Jimmy's forum back in the day.  Basically, aside from whole raw milk fresh from the cow, all dairy meets the definition of processed food.   This was usually met with absurd comparisons claiming I was equating butter with Crisco, or real cheese with Cheetos and Cheese Whiz.   Let's please put that strawman to bed right now.  I am not equating dairy products such as cream, cheese, yogurt, and butter with InsertNameBrandHere processed cheese food slices.  But make no mistake about it, you let raw milk sit around and it does not become any of the aforementioned without *some* processing.

Jimmy is apparently learning "life lessons" from TV these days and thinks Angie Harmon is clueless for promoting milk drinking in children, low fat of course.  He misrepresents what she says, but it's useless to try to correct someone Livin la Vida Low Clue.  (Harmon cites milk as one way to get essential nutrients, not the only way.)

Many in paleo circles treat anything but raw milk as poison of some sort.  While I "get that" from a whole/real foods point of view, I'm all for folks getting and consuming raw whole dairy when they can find it, and I'm against the idiocy of outlawing selling same (use appropriate disclaimers and let buyer beware/educated!!), mass distribution of raw milk to feed this nation would be an unmitigated disaster.

Now as much of a dairy lover as I am myself -- cheeses hard and soft mostly, never much of a drinker -- regular readers likely know that when I really think about dairy consumption, it makes me a bit squirmish.   While animals have been known to "wet nurse" abandoned little ones of other species even in the wild, and no doubt animals would consume the milk of their lactating prey, it just does not seem "natural" for adult humans to use the infant food of another species, in this case predominantly cows, as a major food source.  Yet dairy is so beloved, in fact, that allowances are readily made for its consumption in paleo circles.  

One quibble I have with the Jaminets and Perfect Health Diet is the predication of dietary composition on infant food being the perfect adult human food.  Perhaps I'm misunderstanding that aspect of PHD.  I agree that it is obviously the perfect food/diet composition  for humans under a couple years of age.  And yet consumption past age 2 or so is rare, and almost unheard of past age 5 or so.  The reasons for this can be debated, but are largely irrelevant since the fact of the matter is that humans generally don't consume a mother's-milk diet and are getting all their nutrition from other foods from a relatively early age.  

And yet dairy from other species, primarily cow and goat, has been integral to the human diet for millenia and humans in general seem to thrive on dairy.  It is also the most palatable animal fat in my opinion.  Without salt and crisping, animal body fat is rather gross in my book, but I could eat butter (salted preferred, but unsalted OK) by the pat ... same for drinking cream.  Dairy fat is a favorite for fat overfeeding studies!  

So anyway, there are certain foods that are favorites amongst low carbers and paleo types.  Cream, cream cheese and butter rule in Atkins-land, while ghee (butter purified of milk solids) is acceptable in paleo circles.  Let's start with the cream.  It's not a huge process, but how is it made?  Well, milk is left to sit, the fat/cream rises to the top and then it is skimmed off.  Umm ... this leaves ... skimmed milk!   And yet somehow the skimmed stuff is inherently healthy while that left behind is not?  Worse, the logic here seems to be that some (not the sum) of the parts are better than the whole.  An argument could fly that cream would naturally arise from milk on its own (however milk is never consumed in nature by expressing and letting it sit, it's suckled from the source) ... but this is where I would draw the line.  Anything more requires *processing* of some sort.

I recall when I mentioned this over on Jimmy's forum, one response that milk basically turned to cheese when left to sour.  Umm ... no.  You make yogurt by adding cultures.  My mom used to make her own with a "sponge" my aunt gave her.  You make cheese by adding enzymes.  You make butter by churning which separates the fat from the liquids and most milk solids (proteins).  You make ghee by dissolving the milk solids remaining in butter in hot water and skimming off purified fat.  

The bottom line -- and this is no endorsement of refined/processed grain foods -- is that there's not much difference from a whole-food point of view between isolating the starch or oil from a seed and isolating the fat from milk.  I'm not talking about the difference in the isolation/extraction process mind you, but just the notion that one is isolating and concentrating one component of a whole food.

Even Fructophobe-in-Chief Robert Lustig gives lactose and milk a pass from his caloric liquids.  I agree.  It is probably ideal to avoid all liquid calories, but you can do worse than "pouring one more" glass of milk for your kids (and it looks like Angie's pouring 2% there, certainly not skim milk).  Let's compare 

Contrary to what Jimmy and other low carbers will claim, lower fat dairy is not "loaded" with extra sugars.  They just take the fat out.  I think my 2% cottage cheese has like 2g carb/serving more than the full fat version by weight.  It's not *added* sugar as is often implied by these lowfat dairy-phobes.  My 0% fat Greek yogurt (ideally I'd get 2% but this is way cheaper from where I get it) is made with skim milk and cultures.  Period.  Who decided that dairy fat = healthy, the rest = not?  Well, the rest is apparently healthy and the staple of many low carb dieters -- yep!  Process/refine it a bit more and you get whey protein for your shakes and smoothies.  Aside for the lactose-intolerant, is there any sense to this logic as far as deciding what whole foods and what isolates from them are healthy or not?  (And don't look now but whey is one of the most insulinogenic foods on the planet!)

I propose that low-fat dairy is a perfectly fine food in most cases.  No fat?  In the context of an otherwise balanced diet, there's no ultimate *need* to be getting a lot of fat from dairy in the diet.  Low fat real dairy is almost certainly not a cause of the obesity epidemic in this country (nor is promotion of a low fat diet for that matter).  And certainly kids can do a lot worse than getting 8g of animal protein with or without fat.


A couple o' comments. Re infant food and the PHD, I had the same initial thought you did re the connection between adult macronutrient ratios and those in breast milk, but in his review of PHD* Ned Kock pointed out that we probably misunderstood the rationale: "What they do is to use human breast milk as a basis for their estimation of what an adult human should get, based on a few reasonable assumptions. One of the assumptions is that a human adult’s brain consumes proportionally much less sugar than an infant’s." Chris Masterjohn made a similar point in his PHD review.

Re fat in dairy, my general feeling is that if you're going to eat fat, you better eat good fats. My preference is to eat nutrient-dense fat (like liver or egg yolks from pastured animals) first, then more benign fat sources (like coconut oil) as needed for satiety. I put the fat in CAFO dairy pretty close to veggie oil in fats to avoid; so if I'm not getting locally sourced dairy, I'm going as low-fat as possible.

I wonder if that piece that Sally Fallon wrote has anything to do with this no-fat dairy is evil myth, the one where she describes how skim milk is made - something about it being dried & blown back into the separated milk & the additional air that gets mixed in making it bad somehow. I forget the whole argument, I'd have to google that piece & read it again. But she was in the Fathead movie so she's obviously very very LC Approved, which makes it so. Now I love a lot of the Weston Price stuff & Chris Masterjohn's blog in particular, but the Weston Price scare tactics are no different than what was objectionable about Wheat Belly IMHO. Plus, I remember you pointing out in the Comments section somewhere Evelyn that the internet is littered with tales of people eating full-fat Weston Price-style and not counting their calories...and gaining tons of weight.
CarbSane said…
Yes FTD, tis true. The LC embrace of WAPF is a perfect example of picking out what supports one's desired beliefs, because WAPF style diets are not low carb. Another name for Nourishing Traditions might be Over-nourishing Traditions in the context of our relatively cheap food in the face of affluence society.

Thanks for posting the link Beth, I enjoyed Ned's review. I guess I'm still not "getting" the difference really. The fatty acid profile of dairy is markedly different from other animal fat. I think that many (myself included) have digestive upheaval from too many MCT's is an indication that perhaps they're not as desired for many.
Unknown said…
I can't drink processed milk because it upsets my stomach. I buy non-homogenized (but non-raw milk). It's weird because in Sweden, I guess the butterfat content in this type of milk was high enough that butter would accumulate towards the top of the container. No processing needed. Either way, there is a huge different between shaking some cream around and the industrial process for homogenizing milk.
Lerner said…
as an aside, here's a 2011 documentary that I came across on Hulu:

A guy ~40 yrs old and 90 pounds overweight with chronic autoimmune urticaria goes on a juice fast for 60 days. It's a journey kind of movie. Don't be put off by all the cartoons at the beginning.
Swede said…
Nothing wrong with low fat dairy, but as one who was raised on skim milk I shall never again drink anything but whole milk! Nor shall my daughter ever be forced to drink of the chalky water that is non-fat milk.

I've always used this argument about processing whenever someone I know says that are cutting out processed foods. That word had about as much meaning as 'metabolic derangement' these days.
@ Lerner I saw that documentary as well (a pal did the DP work for the stateside part, so it was pretty much required viewing) - it was amazing to watch that truck driver change in every aspect. Agree that it's a good watch. So was "King Corn" for that matter (also Hulu) - there's a section toward the end where a Brooklyn cabbie talks about his former soda habit & giving it up when a close relative died b/c of diabetes & if I remember had to have body parts amputated. Awful.
Anonymous said…
Study title and authors:
Food choices and coronary heart disease: a population based cohort study of rural Swedish men with 12 years of follow-up.
Holmberg S, Thelin A, Stiernström EL.
Research and Development Centre, Kronoberg County Council, Box 1223, SE-351 12 Växjö, Sweden.

This paper can be accessed at:

This study involved 1,752 men over 12 years and investigated the association of various food items with heart disease.

The study found:
(a) Daily intake of fruit and vegetables was associated with a 61% lower risk of coronary heart disease when combined with a high dairy fat consumption.
(b) Daily intake of fruit and vegetables was associated with a 70% higher risk of coronary heart disease when combined with a low dairy fat consumption.
(c) Choosing wholemeal bread or eating fish at least twice a week showed no association with the outcome.
Thomas said…
You think Susan Sarandon will be doing any more milk commercials? Maybe she can tell us the difference between store brand, pasteurized, homogenized "Nazi" milk and raw milk?
Frosty said…
Plain non-fat Greek yogurt is great. 18g of protein and a bunch of calcium for only 100 calories (per 6 oz). The higher fat versions (1% or 2%) don't have as much protein and aren't as tasty, IMO.
CarbSane said…
I have never been a fan of plain yogurt, but I eat the non-fat Greek on its own and I agree, it's great. It's been a long time since I had full fat, but I do recall it being a bit less tangy and more creamy. Still, can't beat that protein punch!
Sanjeev said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sanjeev said…
> predication of dietary composition on infant
> food being the perfect adult human food

the supposition that every single component of mother's milk exists because of specific advantages conferred by evolutionary forces looks like the hyper adaptationist stance applied to diet.

yes, mother's milk has to be a good diet for infants but to suppose it's the perfectly optimal diet is iffy. Other dietary elements may be beneficial or better than what's currently in there but could have been

> too big of a leap by themselves

> in conflict with other evolutionary pressures (too big of a leap in combination with whatever else is being selected for)

> or too biologically expensive (maybe requiring rare minerals, or lots of energy that could be used other places)

to have evolved (yet).

Like human designs, evolution's designs involve compromise: they are economically constrained (all titanium car bodies would be great ...) and historically constrained (preferences for brick exteriors and basements and a green lawn in front of every house ... all suboptimal, but we have to live with it for resale value).

or click here for hyper adaptationism links

And that's just restricting myself to infant diet. To apply infant diet considerations to adults is an even bigger leap.
Diana said…
I'm surprised that Paleohacks doesn't have a thread on human breast milk as the ideal energy drink!

(Why does the idea of drinking breast milk slightly disgust me? Genes or upbringing?)

Is human breast milk considered a dairy food?
CarbSane said…
LOL Diana, I always think of Ross on Friends chugging the ex's breast milk. Classic!!
Diana said…
Ew. I dunno why but....ew. Not an "ew" on the level of eating witchetty grubs (that's a major league "ew") but, ew.
Diana said…
"yes, mother's milk has to be a good diet for infants but to suppose it's the perfectly optimal diet is iffy."

It's an optimal diet for a baby. I'm not a baby. Despite what that congressman who was against stem cell research said, I am not a 672 month old fetus. I adult....woman!

(Point Break:!!!)

While we are on this amazing subject, did you know that the components of breast milk are different in the first few sucks, the middle sucks, and the last? They are. I learned this reading about some non-profit that shipped breast milk from volunteers to babies in 3rd world conflict zones that had lost their moms, tragically. This was to save them from infant formula. Evolution is amazing.
Tonus said…
I also find the idea of drinking breast milk a bit unsettling.

From a cup, anyway.
Lerner said…
from 5 years ago I remember that lo-fat but not high-fat dairy has benefit for gout

IIRC from longer ago, dairy was said to be somehow protective so lo-fatter Pritikin went to observe autopsies on milk drinking Maasai and found significant atheroma.

OTOH, I remember some study from several years ago about a colony of Greeks in Australia. Their health was similar to Greeks in Greece, even though they had mainly replaced olive oil with local butter.

so the evidence goes back and forth, as usual.

@FTD thanks, I did watch 'King Corn' last night.
CarbSane said…
@Mal - that's an interesting study, but frustrating. Too many confounders. Dairy fat v. margarine being just one. Not sure what to make of it really. Nice to see you 'bout. Hope all's well!
Lerner said…
It's also occurred to me that when Paleos peel their yams to get rid of the supposedly harmful anti-nutrients, that is processing.
Anonymous said…
OK, I get the Bad Mommy Award on this topic. A couple years ago I caught the fever and decided that skim milk was the cause of childhood overweight, and forced my then four-year-old to drink whole milk, much against his natural inclinations ("It's too cweamy!"). My answer was, "You'll drink it and like it! The fat is good for you!" Fast forward a month and my already pudgy guy was getting quite fat in the face. He was looking like a heart attack candidate. Ugh.

Skim it is! He likes it, and it's one of the few proteins he'll eat.

I've slowly learned to be wary of dogma.
Galina L. said…
I agree with Dr. Kort G. Harris on staying away from liquid sources of calories. No wonder some child is fat if the only source of protein for him is the low-fat milk. I know how hard it could be when you are dealing with picky kid.
Adel Moussa said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Adel Moussa said…
with a liquid source of calories that has all the fat removed, this is in fact no wonder. But I suggest you have a glass of full fat fresh raw milk and tell me again that this is not satiating ;-)

on a side note. My mantra is eat nutrients, not calories... now when it comes to low fat dairy the problem is that there are no nutrients left, so that it stands out of question that you should neither eat nor drink 0.2% "yoghurt" or 0.2% "milk"
Diana said…
Gosh, Dr. Andro, it is partly because of Supperversity that I bought whey protein concentrate, which I will be mixing into unsweetened almond milk! (to be consumed before & after weight-bearing workouts).
CarbSane said…
Hi Galina, I don't think fat-free dairy is the way to go with kids ... but lower fat isn't the problem. I dare a kid to get fat on skim milk and fat free yogurt. Not gonna happen!
CarbSane said…
Hey Steph, Sometimes it is all about what one is accustomed to as well. I think some fat is essential to assimilate all nutrients, but 2% or even 1% should be sufficient for that. And no fat in necessary for the kidlet to get their protein in!
Anonymous said…
What I took from reading Weston A. Price, is that Vit. D and K2 are very important for the prevention of dental caries. K2 is created by bacterial fermentation of certain green plants, so it is indeed plausible that the "most healthful" cream came from spring pastured cows. There are other good things in milk besides the vitamins--bodybuilders swear by whey--but, yeah, I am looking for that combo of A, K2, D, and Ca, and I'm not going to get that with skim.

Milk is cow titty snot, but honey is bee spit, and neither of those come close to the weirdest things eaten--poached embryos, bird's nests, spicy live caterpillars, gelatin, bread mold, moss.
Sanjeev said…
> honey is bee spit

Much less likely to grow fungus and bacteria than milk.

Supposedly some honey found in Egyptian tombs was till edible.
Diana said…
"What I took from reading Weston A. Price, is that Vit. D and K2 are very important for the prevention of dental caries."

What I've learned is that brushing and flossing are very important for the prevention of dental caries.
CarbSane said…
Welcome Prof. Andro! I'm going to be doing another post on non-fat (not fortified) vs. full fat milk. I suppose if one is drinking 4 glasses of milk per day there's some considerable difference in the fat soluble vitamin nutrients, but I consider protein per calorie to be an essential nutrient too. Non-fat dry milk was a staple in many homes loooooooong before this obesity epidemic. I'd be more for a campaign to banish margarine from the marketplace than blame reduced fat dairy for our current situation!

@Melissa: I'm comparing commercially available dairy which has been pretty much the same since I've been alive. My generation drank full fat milk and wasn't obese, but the notion that drinking low fat milk has caused an epidemic because we've "replaced" that bit of fat with carbs is ludicrous. Hence this post :)

@shatfat: Yeah, I'm not dissing full-fat dairy, more sticking up for "natural" low-fat versions that are needlessly dissed in LLVLClue land. I'm a big fan of trying to get my nutrients from whole foods rather than supplements, but there are always trade-offs.

"Milk is cow titty snot, but honey is bee spit, and neither of those come close to the weirdest things eaten--poached embryos, bird's nests, spicy live caterpillars, gelatin, bread mold, moss."

Yes, but Winnie the Poo poached honey (and animals do), animals poach eggs from nests. I've never seen an adult animal latch onto the teat of a lactating other-species animal. That's what I mean by the "when I think about it". You'll never get me to eat unprocessed organ meats -- but I'll eat liverwurst. Why? Because I've processed the livers produced by autopsies and removed from rodents and such. I just cannot cook a liver and even imagine slicing and chewing such a thing. I'd probably eat a grub first.

Diana you know that all the crowded teeth and cavities are due to excess carbs and reduced fat diets now. That's why all those SAD-eating fat American kids have fewer cavities.
Anonymous said…
I saw a nature documentary a few years back that said that when a cat or bear take down a lactating animal, they eat the udders/milk first. I was raised on non-fat milk, now go for 2% (coffee only), unless I think I might drink a glass for some reason, than I go for whole raw milk, 3x the price.