Healthy Diets Begin with Dairy

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By Derek Orth

There are so many things worth celebrating in June, but all things dairy is my reason for the season during National Dairy Month! The best part about dairy is the endless variety of products. Just thinking about milk, there's whole, 2%, 1%, skim, A2, lactose-free, high-protein, non-homogenized, and depending on your state laws, even raw milk might be an option.

In the second half of the 20th century, dairy and saturated fat got a bad rap when President Eisenhower suffered from a heart attack. After that, heart disease quickly became the nation's biggest problem needing attention. Apparently, everyone forgot that he smoked four packs of cigarettes a day.

One of the doctors working on the heart disease epidemic was an epidemiologist named Ancel Keys of the University of Minnesota. Keys was sure that saturated fat was the cause of heart problems and especially led to President Eisenhower's heart attack. The low-fat fad started, and Americans kicked butter to the curb as well as lard, tallow and other animal-based products. In January 1961, Keys was featured on the cover of Time Magazine for his work fighting heart disease.

Next time you add butter or cheese to your plate, think about the great things you're doing to improve your health.

It turns out, avoiding dairy can cause more problems than it helps. Believe it or not, butter adorned the cover of June 2014 issue of Time Magazine. After 50-some years of avoiding butter and saturated fat, our waists are bigger, cancer and diabetes are running rampant and the heart disease problem never went away. According to @nutritionwithJudy, butter contains 10 essential vitamins and 14 essential minerals. Butter also contains stearic acid, which smooths and softens skin and can reduce LDL cholesterol.

Speaking of cholesterol, did you know that 70% of people having heart attacks have normal or low cholesterol? Low cholesterol can also cause depression and even violent behavior. Every cell in our body has cholesterol in it and it’s essential for our health. Butter is best eaten as a solid or cooked at a low or medium heat. If you're looking for a high-heat fat or oil to cook with, use ghee instead. Ghee is clarified butter and works well with high-heat cooking. 

We can't talk about dairy products without adding some cheese. While most cheese has very little lactose left after processing, harder and longer-aged cheeses will have the least bit of lactose. Cheese makes a perfect snack and can be a staple in a low-carb or keto lifestyle.

Cheese is also full of calcium as well as vitamins D3 and K2, which are all good for optimal bone health. Cheese is also a prime source of protein. Protein will help you stay fuller longer and is necessary to build and maintain almost every part of our body. One string cheese serving has seven grams of protein, and one cup of cottage cheese has a whopping 25 grams of protein.

I recently attended a workshop on cultured dairy with Laura Poe Mathes, a registered dietitian. We learned how to make yogurt, kefir, cultured cream and butter, and cheese. Mathes recommends at least one spoonful of fermented food at every meal to help with digestion. Yogurt and kefir, as well as fermented veggies, are full of probiotics that can aid in immune support, digestion and a healthy gut microbiome. Just check the nutrition label, as some yogurts have high levels of added sugar that can counteract the benefits.  

If you're looking to dig a little deeper into why you should be adding more dairy to your diet, a great book is “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet” by Nina Teicholz. Next time you add butter or cheese to your plate, think about the great things you're doing to improve your health.

Have a dairy good summer!

Derek Orth is a dairy farmer, Wisconsin Farm Bureau member and graduate of the American Farm Bureau’s Partners in Advocacy Leadership Class 10. To see more of his work or to contact him, visit his website, www.derekorthspeaks.com.

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