Dairy fat: healthful or not?

by Catherine Haug

A March 2010 study, reported in the The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1), looked at the effect of dietary saturated fat on risk of heart disease and stroke, by analyzing data from 21 previous studies. These studies included almost 350,000 subjects with between 5 and 23 years of follow-up. They found that:

“‘There is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of [heart disease and stroke].’ (1,2)

A related article from dLife, Nix the Nonfat Milk; Chuck the Lowfat Cheese (2), also reports:

“Also, a 16-year prospective study of more than 1,500 Australian adults, published in 2010, showed that those who ate the most full-fat dairy had the lowest risk of death from cardiovascular disease.” (2) [emphasis mine]


Look & re-look at the science

Indeed, according to Mercola (3), “a growing number of experts are arguing that it’s healthier to eat and drink dairy products with all the fat left in.”

We’ve all been indoctrinated to believe that all fat is bad, and saturated fat is just plain EVIL. Yet dairy, which is about 50 – 60% saturated fat, is now being found to be not only NOT bad for you, but possibly good? The idea that dairy fat (and other saturated fats) is bad for your heart may be nothing more than a mistaken interpretation of the science. (3)

And it’s not just about cardiovascular disease. Turns out:

  • “Dairy fat contains lots of oleic acid (the stuff that makes olive oil so healthy), along with a type of fat called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) that may help with weight loss. Recent studies strongly suggest that something — possibly the CLA — in dairy fat does indeed help with weight management.” (2)
  • There is also significant evidence that CLA significantly lowers the risk of certain cancers (3)
  • The type of saturated fats in dairy (medium chain fats) actually boost your metabolism, to give you more energy and help you to maintain and possibly lose excess weight. (4)
  • A study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health has identified a natural substance, palmitoleic acid, in dairy fat that may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. (2)

So where did earlier studies go wrong? Some believe it was a mistaken interpretation of the data and science. For example, one of the earliest studies THOUGHT they were using saturated fat, but were in fact using trans fats, because they used margarine. But they never recanted their conclusions.

And we must remember that while body fat is saturated fat, for the most part, that fat is made (in our livers) from excess dietary carbs (2), not from excess dietary fat, then transported via the bloodstream in cholesterol particles to the fat cells. It is this saturated fat in the blood that leads to all the trouble. Dietary fats, including saturated fat, are primarily transported throughout the body via the lymph system, not the blood.

Raw dairy only, please

To get the maximum health benefits of dairy, it’s important to take it raw (raw milk, raw cheese, etc.), because pasteurization is known to:

  • Oxidize the mono- and poly-unsaturated fats in dairy, producing free radicals which are devastating to health.
  • Denature enzymes and other proteins in milk, which can explain why so many people (who drink pasteurized milk) suffer from asthma and other allergy symptoms.
  • Destroy or diminish many of the vitamins in milk, especially vitamins A and D.

Furthermore, raw milk from clean, healthy cows, contains:

  • More probiotics (good bugs) than just about any other food, including supplements. These probiotics are so health-supporting that they actually keep bad microbes from growing in the milk.
  • Many beneficial immune factors (intended for the infant drinking its mother’s milk) that are passed on to anyone drinking the milk.

These good things are all weakened or destroyed by the heat treatment known as pasteurization.

Unfortunately, the sale of raw milk is illegal in Montana. The only way you can obtain raw milk legally is to own the dairy animal. I am part owner of a cow for that very reason. (see Cow Share or Co-op: How it Works (7)).

For more about the benefits of raw dairy, check out Nourishing Traditions (4) and the Real Milk website. (5) For more on pasteurization, see my article: Food Safety and Pasteurization. (6)


  1. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease
  2. dLife.com: Nix the Nonfat Milk; Chuck the Lowfat CheeseLandmark Research on Diet and Heart Disease, and What if Saturated Fat is Not the Problem?
  3. Mercola: Why You Need to Avoid Low Fat Milk and Cheeses
  4. Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig, PhD.
  5. www.realmilk.com
  6. Food Safety and Pasteurization, by C. Haug
  7. Cow Share or Co-op: How it Works, by C. Haug

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