Yesterday, my cousin asked me: “Lately, I have become confused around dairy. I read one thing that said we should drink whole milk and use butter rather than margarine, as these are more natural products. But anything I read from nutritionists advocates low-fat milk and olive oil-based spreads. I want to know what is more healthy for the body in general. Should you choose low fat or full-fat dairy?”
My answer is going to be another one of those it depends answers.
Apart from a KFC Zinger Double BBQ Bacon & Cheese Burger, there are very few foods that are all bad. Most food has good points and bad points: nutritional pluses and minuses.
And whether you should be eating low-fat or full-fat dairy depends on mainly three things:
- What else you’re eating
- How much of the food you eat
- Whether you are at a healthy weight or not
And the same is true of dairy.
Full-fat vs low-fat
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If you’re at a healthy weight and have a diet that’s generally low in saturated fat, then consuming full-fat dairy is not a problem.
As long as you’re not eating it by the bucketload.
However, here in the Western world, many people struggle to maintain a healthy weight. Plus most people eat far too much-saturated fat. Hence the recommendation from most nutritionists to make low-fat dairy choices.
Therefore if you’re trying to lose weight, or you have a diet that’s already high in fat, you’d be wise to either restrict your intake of full-fat dairy or mix it up with some low-fat choices.
In this case choose lower-fat milk and yogurt. As always, the best choice is to make your own at home. And select the dairy foods which are naturally lower in fat, like cottage cheese, ricotta and fetta.
Alternatives to butter and margarine
Here in Australia we’re very reliant on dairy, but there are alternatives. While I’m not adverse to spreading a bit of butter on my toast now and then, I’m just as likely to use hummous, avocado or tahini. These all add nutritional depth and variety to what I’m eating.
I drizzle olive oil, lemon juice or tahini over vegetables and mix up the milks I use on cereal.
When it comes to cheese, I often select low-fat options. I’ll use ricotta or fetta instead of parmesan, on pasta and risottos. I often mix together ricotta and yoghurt, instead of using cream. While toast with ricotta and jam is heavenly.
All of these options are naturally lower in saturated fat, without compromising flavour.
So enjoy your full-fat dairy, in moderation. And remember the alternatives, they’re a great way to increase the variety of foods you eat.