Wondering about what kind of dairy products you should be eating? Or just need an excuse to eat more cheese? If you don’t eat dairy, how much thought have you given to finding a healthy substitute? Over the next few paragraphs I’ll attempt to address these issues – and a few others too – starting with milk.
Recent research done on thousands of Swedish men and women showed that those who consumed more milk were more likely to die or fracture a bone - contrary to popular belief and public health guidelines that increasing calcium intake through milk consumption will help prevent osteoporosis.
The researchers warn us that further study is needed to really confirm the association - but the theory is that milk contains high amounts of galactose, formed when lactose, the main sugar in milk, is broken down during digestion. And galactose promotes inflammation in the body - a really fundamental disease process linked to basically everything from heart disease to cancer to dementia, and also osteoporosis.
However, another article suggests eating full-fat milk is much better for us than low-fat milk. Again done on Swedes (they love their milk), full-fat dairy products were actually associated with less weight gain than low-fat ones - probably because they contain lower amounts of added sugar and keep you fuller for longer, reducing overall calorie intake.
There’s more good news for dairy lovers. Women in the first study (above) who reported eating larger amounts of cheese and yoghurt were found to have a lower risk of dying or fracturing a bone compared to those drinking milk. Again, this may be because cheese and yoghurt contain much lower amounts of galactose than milk. Also, they contain other things such as probiotic cultures that promote healthy gut bacteria.
However, the crux of the matter here is fat.
FAT, FAT, GLORIOUS FAT
The whole idea that saturated fat is bad for your heart, weight and overall health has been completely overturned in recent years. It was originally proposed, due mainly to two pieces of research – the Seven Countries Study and the Framingham Heart Study – that high cholesterol levels were linked to heart disease and due to overconsumption of saturated fats. And a fat lot of good this did. Supermarkets were flooded with low fat products substituted for sugar – now cited as the main culprit responsible for obesity, diabetes and, of course, heart disease – and no further studies have been able to confirm the association between saturated fats and cardiovascular ill-health.
Increasing evidence seems to suggest that saturated fat is actually good for you – for your nervous system, blood sugar & appetite regulation and even cholesterol levels. Of course, the source of saturated fat is important – animal sources should be unprocessed, organic, grass-fed or free-range, while delicious plant sources are coconut oil, cocoa butter & avocado. As for unsaturated fat, the omega-3 polyunsaturated varieties found in oily fish, flaxseed/linseed oil, walnuts & edamame (Japanese soy beans) are well known for their anti-inflammatory properties, which has an effect on almost all disease processes – namely cardiovascular disease, arthritis, depression & dementia. We are supposed to be eating more of these fats anyway to lower our omega-6/omega-3 ratio, which itself may have an effect on various chronic diseases. Great sources of monounsaturated fat, a main component of the highly regarded Mediterranean diet, include olive oil, rapeseed oil & avocado.
In fact, only types of fat we should definitely be avoiding are the pro-inflammatory trans-saturated fatty acids (trans fats), found in processed & fried foods including biscuits, cakes & crisps. Processed meats also contain lots of nitrates and salt, which can increase blood pressure and damage your arteries in different ways. However, the problem with focussing on specific food groups is that the whole dietary picture is not considered – which is why evidence that a traditional Mediterranean diet is best for your heart is worth taking into consideration. Otherwise known as a healthy, balanced diet!
So the bottom line is that a low-fat diet is probably not what we should be aiming for, in terms of heart, body or brain health. For vegetarians, full-fat dairy products & eggs as well as plant sources provide more than enough to get on with. For vegans, coconut oil, flaxseed oil, nuts, seeds, nut butters & avocado can also provide more than enough if eaten on a regular basis. Here is an interesting post by a vegan dietician with some ideas on how to increase your fat intake. However – she doesn’t mention the best full-fat food in existence, vegan or non-vegan: raw dark chocolate! So I thought I’d give you my recipe. I’d add a bit more on the amazing health benefits of cacao, but it’ll have to wait for another blog post!
THE BEST FOOD IN THE WORLD: RAW CHOCOLATE
It’s the most divine thing you will ever eat, it’s so easy to make, and it’s so good for you. It’s almost unbelievable how delicious this chocolate is. I often have to hold onto the edge of my kitchen table when I sample a freshly set batch.
To make this, you’ll need some moulds – either ice cube trays or silicon moulds. However, if you don’t have moulds, I sometimes just pour the chocolate into a tupperware box (at least a centimetre deep if not two), leave it to set and then break it up into pieces. Or just eat it.
Ingredients for plain dark raw chocolate:
Optional extras/flavours: brazil nuts, walnuts, crystallised ginger, mint essential oil, goji berries, chilli powder, cinammon, any herbal powders (lavender, rose petal, hawthorn)…
It really is best to wait, as I’ve repeatedly found. You can put them in the fridge (or freezer) to speed up the process, but they set better at room temperature. You’ve been warned.
I recommend starting with the plain version, but to make other flavours simply add the extra ingredients at the end. Enjoy!