Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
3 Dec

Should You Be Eating High-Fat Dairy?

dairy3One thing that sets the Primal way of eating apart from other ancestral health approaches is our acceptance of dairy fat. Obviously, those people who can’t tolerate dairy shouldn’t eat it, but in my experience a significant portion of the community can handle high-quality, full-fat dairy, especially butteryogurt, and cheese. We like these foods for many reasons. They’re delicious. They make vegetables more appealing and nutritious. They’re inherently nutritious themselves, containing fat-soluble vitamins and important minerals, while the potentially problematic components of dairy – the whey, casein, and lactose – are either absent or mitigated by fermentationFermented dairy is a good source of probiotics, too. All in all, dairy is worth including if you can do it.

The rest of the nutritional world seem to be catching up with us on this. Recent years have seen a rash of meta-analyses, epidemiological studies, and clinical trials that question the assumption that low-fat dairy is healthier than full-fat dairy. Even Harvard’s Walter Willett, that seed oil-loving silver fox with the voluminous mustache, has come out in tepid support of full-fat dairy. Official recommendations lag, as they always do, but it’s changing. Just check out some of the studies. They don’t just exonerate dairy fat. They increasingly and repeatedly find connections between dairy fat and improved health.

  • A recent study entitled “Milk in the diet: good or bad for vascular disease?” found that the evidence “indicates that increased consumption of milk does not result in increased CVD risk and may give some long-term benefits” including reduced blood pressure and body weight, and that the “SFA in dairy may be less of a risk factor than previously thought.”
  • In women, a recent study found that the effect of dairy on cardiovascular disease depends entirely on the type of dairy consumed. Cheese consumption was inversely associated with risk of heart attack, while butter used on bread increased the risk. Awesomely and unsurprisingly, butter used for cooking did not increase the risk.
  • According to another review of the influence of milk fat on CVD risk, the “majority of observational studies have failed to find an association between the intake of dairy products and increased risk of CVD, coronary heart disease, and stroke, regardless of milk fat levels.” While butter and other sources of milk fat may increase LDL-C “when substituted for carbohydrates or unsaturated fatty acids,” they also increase HDL and may even improve the HDL:total cholesterol ratio.
  • Another study found that neither low-fat dairy nor full-fat dairy were associated with cardiovascular disease. However, full-fat fermented dairy was protective against CVD.

Many of those studies are based on dietary recall, which is notoriously unreliable. Can you remember how much dairy fat you ate five years ago? Five months ago? Five days ago? It’s more accurate to look at how biomarkers of dairy fat consumption, specific fatty acids or nutrients unique to dairy (or at least uncommon in other foods) that signify dairy fat intake when they show up in tissue or blood, relate to health conditions:

  • In overweight teens, levels of the dairy-specific saturated fats pentadecanoic acid and heptadecanoic acid in the blood were associated with lower inflammatory markers, even after controlling for calcium, vitamin D, protein, and omega-3 intake (all dairy components that may influence health).
  • Higher levels of trans-palmitoleic acid (a dairy fat) were associated with lower insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, and diabetes risk.
  • Although higher circulating trans-palmitoleic acid meant higher LDL-C, it also meant lower triglycerides, improved blood pressure, and less diabetes in a cohort of white, black, Latino, and Chinese Americans. Circulating pentadecanoic acid was also linked to reduced cardiovascular disease in that same cohort. I’ll take the higher LDL-C if I get all the other stuff.
  • Dietary intake of menaquinones (vitamin K2), “which is highly determined by the intake of [full-fat] cheese,” was associated with a reduced risk of incident and fatal cancer.

Dairy fat contains over 400 of these fatty acid “species,” making it the most complex natural fat. Not all of those species have been studied – 400 is a tall order – but there is evidence that at least a couple of them exert beneficial effects:

Conjugated Linoleic Acid

You know CLA by now. It’s the “good trans-fat,” the one that causes feverish vegans to point and scream about dairy “having trans-fats!” until you calmly explain the difference between manmade trans-fats in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and beneficial trans-fats produced in the rumens of cattle and sheep.

covered CLA a few years ago, focusing especially on the differences between supplemental CLA (often mostly trans-10, cis-12) and naturally occurring CLA (90% cis-9, trans-11), so I won’t go too much into it. Suffice it to say, supplemental CLA is a different beast altogether whose effects cannot be extrapolated out to dairy containing CLA. The dose is larger and the structure is different. That said, dairy naturally rich in cis-9, trans-11 CLA has been shown to be beneficial in trials. In a 2010 trial, pecorino romano (a raw sheep cheese high in CLA that I highly recommend) improved markers of inflammation and atherosclerosis in human subjects compared to a control cheese low in CLA.

Butyric Acid

Butyric acid is a short chain fatty acid produced in the guts of mammals by fermentation of fiber by gut bacteria. Since ruminants like cows are processing tons of fibrous plant matter, they make a lot of butyric acid which ends up in their dairy fat. Most research has focused on the benefits of endogenous production of butyric acid in the colon, but one human study suggests that oral butyric acid in the amounts we could expect to get from dairy fat can also have beneficial effects on our health.

However, it was an enteric-coated oral butyric acid supplement that helped 53% of subjects with “mild to moderate” Crohn’s disease go into remission and 16% have partial improvement, not a mouthful of butter. Enteric coatings allow supplements to make it into the colon whereas butter will be digested before making it. I suppose it’s possible that poor digestion could allow for some butter (and butyric acid) to make it down to the colon, but that’s not a desirable condition. The results of this study may not be applicable to butter consumption.

Milk Fat Globule Membrane

Dairy fat is encapsulated in a “milk fat globule membrane” that also includes various other bioactive compounds that seem to exert beneficial effects. Indeed, consumption of buttermilk, which is rich in MFGM, has been shown to reduce blood pressure in human subjects. Another study showed reductions in cholesterol, especially triglycerides, with buttermilk consumption.

What about low-fat dairy?

Low-fat dairy doesn’t seem to help with blood pressure or adiposity. It either has no effect on or increases a certain marker of inflammation, while eating butter, cream, or cheese has either a beneficial or no effect on inflammation. And although milk is often implicated in cancer, that’s only true for low-fat and skim milk; full-fat milk appears to be protective.

For all the potential benefits of these dairy-specific fatty acid species, I’m hesitant to elevate any one of them. Dairy is a whole food, and it’s likely the entire package that’s responsible for the effects. Plus, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to disentangle the fatty acid components from the other nutrients in dairy. CLA comes with calcium comes with milk fat globule membranes come with vitamin K2 comes with potassium comes with protein, and so on. And even if we could isolate the effects of various dairy nutrients and study them, that goes out the window we eat the stuff. When we bite down on a slab of aged gouda or toss a pat of grass-fed butter over some steamed broccoli or quaff a flagon of kefir, the myriad components of dairy are mingling in our mouths and our guts and being incorporated into and used by our tissues. We can’t disentangle dairy nutrients in the real world. Why would we want to? If we do, we end up with CLA supplements that don’t work quite as well as grass-fed dairy. Just eat the dairy. Studies – and millennia of tradition across dozens of cultures – support this practice.

Whatever’s doing it, something in the full-fat dairy is improving our health over and above low-fat dairy – and that’s what matters most. Choose your fancy. Raw milk? Drink it if you got and want it. Aged sheep cheese? Enjoy. Yogurt? Do it. They all seem to be associated with good health, protection from CVD and diabetes and obesity. Since the healthy user effect doesn’t really apply to full-fat dairy (since “everyone knows” full-fat dairy is bad for you), I’m cautiously optimistic that it’s actually exerting beneficial effects on people who eat it.

What does this mean in the big picture? Is full-fat dairy unabashedly Primal? If you’re tolerant of it, then yes, I suppose it is.

In a future post, I’ll explain how you can figure out if you’re dairy intolerant.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care and be sure to leave a comment!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. This has been a great discussion on dairy vs non-dairy and raw vs pasteurized, but hasn’t really delved into the main issue… is it primal??? Much as I love dairy (heavy creams, butter, cheese, yogurt, kefir), I do not see how they can be considered primal if we are defining primal in caveman terms. It just couldn’t happen. Yes, you can go back thousands of years to “ancient” cultures who incorporated dairy in healthy, fermented ways; but that does not make it primal. So, are we defining primal by content or chronology?

    Diane wrote on December 4th, 2013
    • Then why are you using the internet, Diane? Sure, you can go back thousands of years and find “ancient” cultres that used the internet, but cavemen certainly didn’t. It just couldn’t happen.

      John wrote on December 5th, 2013
    • if we define by chronology, coconut is neither is coconut primal/paleo, nor “ancestral” (certainly coconut was not in the diet of my forefathers)

      (i love high fat dairy)

      cheers,

      PHK wrote on January 12th, 2014
  2. So glad to see this post! I’ve been mixing organic whole milk with my egg white protein powder for a quick breakfast before work. It’s so good to know that it’s a win-win! Also, the fat in the whole milk really keeps me full until lunch! Thanks Mark; and thanks for doing all the research and making sure the information you share with us is current and up-to-date. You are the best!!

    Karen wrote on December 4th, 2013
  3. I love the stuff Mark Sisson writes but I don’t understand why he is pro dairy and this is one area I feel he is making a mistake. He is Paleo in everything except this, for some reason. They can do countless studies that show some kind of benefit for milk, but it’s not Paleo and we’re not designed to consume it – that’s the principle of Paleo. 130million Japanese are the healthiest and most long-lived people on the planet and historically they have never consumed anything from a cow – what about that “study’?

    As for raw milk – google Crohn’s disease, Mycobacteriumn Avium Paratuberculosis and Johne’s disease which is absolutely rife in the dairy industry (http://www.johnesdisease.org/NAHMS%20Study.html) and you will see that consuming raw milk is not a good idea. If you get an infection from consuming raw milk, an infection that no ancestor ever had to deal, then don’t be surprised if you’re body doesn’t know how to handle it.

    Consume dairy if you want…but don’t say you haven’t been warned.

    Phil wrote on December 4th, 2013
  4. I have heard that if you are gluten intolerant you should leave milk alone also.
    Is this true?

    Thanks for the answer.

    Maryann wrote on December 4th, 2013
  5. Thanks Mark, I love having my food choices validated here. I’m particularity fond of the really smelly cheeses – my go-to choice for a mid-morning snack.

    Deb wrote on December 4th, 2013
  6. Are you kidding me Mark? Milk is one of thee WORST foods you can put in your body PERIOD. Milk and or all dairy is the most MUCUS forming food in the human diet. Milk or for that matter all dairy minus (butter) are VER HIGH inflammatory foods that should be avoided.

    Michael wrote on December 4th, 2013
    • I am very surprised by this article by Mark.

      Phil wrote on December 5th, 2013
  7. I think Mark posted about the whipped coconut cream you can make using coconut milk. For anyone who hasn’t tried it, it is VERY good. The brand I think is perfect is Golden Star, only ingredients are coconut milk and water. If you use enough cocoa, you can’t even taste the coconut (if you don’t like coconut). Super thick and creamy.

    Wenona wrote on December 4th, 2013
  8. I bet Grok happily guzzled milk out of any and all the un-burst udders he found among the dozens of dead and dying cows at the bottom of his favorite buffalo jump.

    Rick wrote on December 4th, 2013
  9. Mark, if you read this, please could you look into the A1 vs A2 debate ? Ii refer to Keith Woodford and his book The Devil in the Milk.

    I have access to 100% Jersey cow milk for my kids, with a whopping 5-5% fat content! They love it :) I don’t drink milk myself, makes me gassy but I eat about 200g of sheep milk based Greek style yogurt on a daily basis with no trouble :)

    La Frite wrote on December 5th, 2013
  10. In Australia the dairy industry has created some short vid clips.
    In particular check out Muscle Recovery and Milkorade See http://www.legendairy.com.au/Legendairy-TV.aspx
    Cheers

    Colin wrote on December 5th, 2013
  11. I was so excited to read this post! The thought of giving up full-fat plain yogurt was horrifying to me…I use it as a dessert and a filling snack during that horrid 3pm time. Also, it helps me get my veggies in…amazing what a little cheese can do for the green stuff. Thanks for an informed post! Excited to fully transition to full fat and ditch low-fat for good!

    Effie wrote on December 5th, 2013
  12. Is it just me, or are a lot of the arguments against dairy just flat out stupid?

    Cavemen didn’t eat dairy? So what? Are you saying humans could NEVER find a new source of food that’s both delicious and nutritious?

    Cow’s milk wasn’t meant for humans to eat? So what? Human breast milk is the ONLY food that was meant for humans to eat, but that doesn’t stop us from eating lots of other things that benefit us.

    Human’s are the only animal that drinks milk of a different animal? So what? We’re also the only animal that builds skyscrapers and builds cars, along with tons of other things. And lots of other animals will eat cows milk, if given the chance. It’s just that they can’t figure out how to milk another animal.

    Lactose and Casien can be problematic for some, but even those don’t apply to all forms of dairy or all individuals.

    John wrote on December 5th, 2013
  13. My wife is lactose intolerant and has been milk-free for a few years now. I have DRAMATICALLY increased my milk consumption, but do occasionally indulge in Greek Yogurt and Dark Chocolate (most of which is milk-free, actually)..

    I don’t plan on giving up my yogurt any time soon :)

    jefferson wrote on December 5th, 2013
  14. I LOVE dairy products! I scoffed when our doctor told me that we need to drink low-fat milk. HA! NEVER!! I eat more butter, cheese, heavy cream and half n half than ever and I am the skinniest I have been in YEARS! NO ONE can tell me not to eat my butter! I refuse to believe that butter is worse for my health than a butter subsitute with ingredients in it I can not pronounce! YAY FOR DAIRY!!

    JENMOO wrote on December 5th, 2013
  15. We’re fortunate here in Maine to have ready access to local dairy farmers and their grass fed raw whole milk and other dairy products including a large variety of cheese, yogurt, and kefir.

    If you live in a large metro area with limited access to whole fat and grass-fed dairy, consider buying whole fat milk and making your own whole fat yogurt or whole fat kefir. There are several low cost yogurt maker products on the market such as the “Yogotherm” (yogotherm.com)….you don’t need buy another expensive electric appliance.

    Steve wrote on December 5th, 2013
  16. This is good to hear as my two year old’s new favorite food is butter. I also just ordered some raw cream and kefir from my local farmer- yum!

    Audry P wrote on December 5th, 2013
  17. love this food

    Beveryl Smith wrote on December 5th, 2013
  18. I have always preferred full-fat dairy (Primal 1 1/2 years). It just tastes so much better than low-fat, and low-fat much better than skim. Fuller, richer, more complete, more satisfying. More wholesome. Not knowing what homogenization was (makes milk homogeneous–no cream separation and every jug tastes the same), I would pour myself the first glass from a newly opened jug, convinced/hoping that it had the most cream.

    Bill C wrote on December 5th, 2013
  19. I don’t know why but since cleaning up my diet I became more sensitive to things I shouldn’t eat (allergies?).

    Had an allergy test done for lactose intolerance about 5 years ago and it came back negative. Every time I drink dairy (doesn’t matter A1 or A2 milk, raw or cooked) I end up with a pooch belly like a 8 months old pregnant lady and severe cramps.

    I don’t know what’s happening but eventually I’ll be forced to completely give up dairy, xept for the occasional raw cheese.

    /cry

    Issabeau wrote on December 6th, 2013
  20. “Cheese consumption was inversely associated with risk of heart attack, while butter used on bread increased the risk. Awesomely and unsurprisingly, butter used for cooking did not increase the risk.”

    Guess it didn’t dawn on the researchers that the BREAD might be the problem?

    I can’t tolerate low fat or skim milk at all, but I can drink whole milk or use full fat cream periodically with little to no effect. I eat cheese, yogurt, and butter regularly with no ill effects. I started eating paleo six months ago at more than 100 lbs overweight and I’m currently buying clothes 2 sizes smaller and my joints feel well enough that I can run again. I’m not afraid of dairy, just afraid of advice from people who think dietary fat is bad without looking at the evidence.

    Great information. Thank you, Mark!

    Darna22 wrote on December 6th, 2013
  21. Whole milk gives me heartburn. Other than that I love it. I’ve been drinking skim milk for about twenty-four years. My cholesterol is 160. One of the things I like about whole milk is it has no added vitamins or minerals. I don’t like foods with added ingredients.

    Jane Peters wrote on December 8th, 2013
  22. I’m going to go with Cordain on this one….

    http://thepaleodiet.com/qa-with-dr-cordain-milk/

    Steve wrote on December 8th, 2013
  23. I gave up milk over a year ago and I don’t miss spitting up the mucous and flem in the morning and when I brush my teeth. Full fat Greek yogurt (Fage) is such a tasty creamy treat as is grass fed butter. I only use milk now for my espresso drinks and it is such a small amount that the flem isn’t much of an issue.

    Nikko wrote on December 10th, 2013
  24. Am I right in thinking that full fat cows milk is okay and considered primal only if you are tolerant of it? Am I also right in assuming that the milk has to come from grass fed cows?
    Sorry for the questions but I am trying to take in so much information regarding primal I think I am a bit overloaded at the moment.
    I know there is a direct correlation between diet and skin conditions in particular acne, I just want to ensure I get it right.

    Sophia wrote on December 11th, 2013
  25. As for myself, the A1 beta-casein in Holstein cows milk is a total disaster for my health; much worse than the gluten and gliadin in wheat. A number of years ago, I initially tried the Atkins diet (way-of-eating) in which cheese was considered to be a free food under Induction (kinda like alcohol is a free food for an alcoholic). The obesity blame is placed totally on carbohydrates (including relatively clean and unprocessed food sources such bananas and potatoes) and the yet unknown inflammatory disease-promoting proteins get off Scott-free without any blame. So my inability to lose weight under the Atkins diet (i.e. the big protruding ‘wheat’ belly) was initially thought to be ‘metabolic resistance’ to weight loss. It is only this year (since August), that I have discovered the dairy intolerance problem with A1 casein. It took me four weeks to get over the opiate addiction and withdrawal to A1 casein in the form of casomorphin. This was not fun at all, since I was craving cheese all the time. I gutted it out, and replaced the missing calcium with sardines in water/tomato sauce, pressure-cooked bone broths, and extra dark green veggies. I now know that the A1 casein is the main driver behind my protruding leaky-gut ‘dairy’ belly, bronchitis, athlete’s foot, dandruff, armpit/body odor problems, jock itch, sinus infections, and constantly coming down with colds and flus in the winter. This is the first November/December that I have not come down with the flu when everyone else in the office was sick as a dog with it. IMHO, this is a place where Paleo got it right, and Weston A. Price got it wrong.

    I’ve read somewhere that the Masai cattle milk is of the A2 casein variety; not A1 casein. I also know that I tolerate goat milk and goat cheese (A2 casein in moderation), so this has worked as an infrequent substitute in recipes that require or come out better with something approximating cow milk and cow cheese. That said, I am happy to say that I do tolerate grass-fed butter (provides vitamin K2 and satiety/energy from the saturated fat); although I do not yet know if I do any better on clarified vs. unclarified butter with regards to the casein issue.

    James wrote on December 15th, 2013
  26. As much as it killed me to give up dairy, I had learned too much about our inability to digest and absorb the casein protein found in dairy to justify keeping it in my diet. I have a serious autoimmune colitis and refused the death sentence of prednisone and instead learned about the standard American diet… And how I needed to get off of it. The first and most immediate life saving change was gluten. The second was casein. While I gave it up for better digestive health, the immediate and HUGE drop in my blood pressure was so shocking that I bought my own BP cuff! I challenge anyone who claims that dairy isn’t related to high blood pressure and heart disease to COMPLETELY give it up (read every flipping label and ask every flipping waiter) and watch their blood pressure decrease to the level they were at as a teen. I also believe with all of my being that dairy is one of the biggest triggers of breast cancer. I still miss it terribly, but its out of my life. Oh yeah, and my skin is healthy again too.

    Kristy wrote on December 20th, 2013
  27. I am just getting ready to start Paleo (after the holidays!!) and am a bit confused. Some sites say dairy is OK but others say that those who eat dairy are not following a Paleo eating plan. Who is right? I have also learned on some sites that sweet potatoes are OK but not white potatoes. To my way of thinking, if we are to eat the kinds of foods that would have been eaten during the Paleolithic era, it would be meat, eggs, vegetables and fruits. I love cheese and thinking I could have this occasionally but I am not sure I could survive without potatoes!! I believe the Paleolithic human would have eaten most of the root vegetables they found – not just some because they are lower in carbs or as one site said – they would not have known how to cook a potato. Well, a sweet potato is much harder than a white potato. Was/is the difference really because the white potato is a new thing and sweet is ancient? HELP!

    Leal wrote on December 24th, 2013
    • Go ahead and eat dairy, see how you feel, if you can accomplish what you want to achieve (fat loss, feeling better, etc). If you can’t get the results you want, try removing dairy. The same for potatoes. Some people can’t eat eggs because of an allergy or sensitivity, even though they would be considered paleo. You may be able to find a substitute for potatoes that aren’t starchy such as on Marmalade and Mileposts (from the co-host of Smarter Science of Slim).

      Wenona wrote on December 25th, 2013
      • Thanks for the information. I want to lose weight, get healthy in 2014. I just quit smoking in November (hence waiting until after the first of the year to start a new eating plan!!). I had a problem with dairy intolerance when I was younger. It (dairy) does not affect me as it did years ago. Have I become tolerant in my old age? I am thinking that while I don’t have the same symptoms, dairy is probably affecting me in a different way. I have been planning my strategy for a few months now. I am on the cliff, ready to jump and give up processed (i.e. boxed and frozen meals and sides) foods as well as fast foods. I will purchase a slow cooker tomorrow so that I can have food ready to eat when I arrive home from work and freeze for later on. After giving up the processed foods/fast foods (I am giving myself 2 weeks to do so) then I will start to eliminate processed sugars from my plan (cane sugar, high fructose anything). I will keep honey and maple syrup in my plan for special occasions. I will have to cut out coffee for a while as right now, it is so doctored up with sugars/cream(ers) that I will not be able to drink coffee until I get used to no sugars. This also will be a 2-3 week process. Then the grains/gluten. So, I figure that by the time I turn 61 in March 2014, I should be, for the most part, primal/paleo.

        My nutritional therapist recommended Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfillippo, BS,NC. It is a great big book with menu plans as well recipes. She goes into a lot of dis-eases and how to get the most out of the eating plan to heal whatever ails ya!

        leal wrote on December 25th, 2013
        • Please give up the wheat first! It is a low-grade toxin. Best to eliminate the toxins first (you started with smoking, wheat should be second!)

          grisly atoms wrote on December 25th, 2013
        • I agree with Grisly, get rid of the grains first.
          Good job so far with quitting smoking!

          2Rae wrote on December 25th, 2013
  28. I do paleo but I will not give up my sweet potatoes, they have far too many nutrients. In terms of white potatoes, you can have them on your cheat day, which for me is Saturday.

    Nikko wrote on December 25th, 2013
  29. I love the discussion on dairy. My mother always told the story of when she weaned me that I would not drink another drop of milk from any source. We had a small local dairy at the time. Now, I love the taste of cheese, ice cream and things like that and love what butter does to foods flavor wise but what it does to my body – back in my early days it would be cramping and the D word! now I think I am just “used” to it but if I really think about it, can feel what those things do to me – would have to be very careful.

    As for giving up gluten/wheat – have done that as I am not eating processed foods. Short of eating whole wheat berries out of hand (and I am NOT doing that) giving up processed foods literally eliminated not only “boxed dinners” but breads, grains of all sorts. I am basically on a protein/veggie regime this week and will start adding fruits back next week. So, while I didn’t actually say I was giving up gluten/wheat per se, I really did give it up whole heartedly. And, can actually say, have not missed it at all.

    leal wrote on January 12th, 2014
  30. ATTENTION: If you want all the amazing health benefits
    of the Paleo Diet – including a flat stomach, younger skin and
    strong, lean muscles – but you’re not sure what to eat each day,
    READ THIS NOW!

    ———————

    TODAY’S ARTICLE

    ———————

    January 13, 2014

    Dear Suzette,

    Maple syrup…honey… figs… dates…

    Sure they’re sweet. And technically speaking, they’re considered “Paleo.”

    But let’s face it: Most so-called Paleo desserts and snack foods with these ingredients contain more sugar in one serving than our Paleo ancestors ate in an average month.

    And if you make these foods a regular part of your diet, that can be bad news for your health and waistline. In fact, research shows that as sugar consumption goes up longevity goes down. Worse still, as your consumption of sugar goes up, your risk for chronic diseases, obesity and physical aging rises in parallel.

    The Whitehall Study, which spanned 33 years and evaluated 451,787 people, found that all-cause, cardiovascular, and respiratory mortality were significantly higher among individuals with elevated blood sugar levels. This study also showed that sugar intake and mortality were dose-dependent. In other words, the more sugar you eat, the higher your risk.

    And it makes little difference whether that sugar comes in the form of a soft drink, a syrup-sweetened dessert, or a food bar filled with dates.

    Sugar: The Not-So-Sweet Drug

    While enjoying a sugary dessert once in a while isn’t likely to do much harm, the issue lies in sugar’s addictive qualities. This makes it difficult to stop eating sugary foods once you start.

    Make no mistake, sugar is a drug. And a powerful one, at that.

    Eating sugar stimulates physiological reactions that cause the release of adrenaline. This is the same hormone responsible for the “high” you might feel after riding a roller coaster. Sugar also triggers the production of your brain’s natural opioids – one of the key factors in addiction.

    In fact, a recent study published in PLOS ONE found that sugar is more addictive than cocaine. The researchers believe that the receptors on our tongue that taste “sweet” evolved in ancestral times when our diets were very low in sugar (5 pounds per year versus the 175 pounds we consume on average today).

    These receptors have not yet adapted to our Neolithic levels of sugar consumption. And stimulating these receptors creates excessive reward signals in the brain. The result: Our normal self-control mechanisms are overridden, leading to addiction.

    And if that’s not enough, sugar also decreases your body’s production of the appetite control hormone leptin… while simultaneously increasing levels of ghrelin, an appetite-boosting hormone.

    In short, eating sugar causes an increase in hunger… the desire for sugary foods… the hormones that contribute to weight gain… and the key risk factors for chronic disease.

    But what about Paleo sources of sugar? Aren’t they a better alternative, and more suitable to our genetic makeup?

    Fructose: The Un-friendly Sweetener Found in Fruit

    Many people mistakenly believe that sugar from fruit is better than other kinds of sugar. Fruit is healthy, right?

    Not so fast…

    In fact, the sugar found in fruit – called fructose – is a particularly damaging form of sugar. Fructose has been found to:

    Cause digestive distress in sensitive individuals with dietary fructose intolerance (DFI) – roughly 33% of the population
    Raise ghrelin levels – a hormone that boosts appetite
    Deplete mineral levels in the body
    Tax the liver and contribute to fatty liver disease
    Increase uric acid levels – raising blood pressure, insulin production and impairing kidney function
    Increase triglyceride and oxidized LDL levels – key factors in heart disease and metabolic syndrome
    Damage neurons, contributing to memory loss and cognitive decline
    Promote glycation – the binding of sugar to protein which causes both inflammation and oxidation – key factors in every chronic disease
    It’s not that fruit is inherently bad. In fact, if you consumed fructose as our ancestors did – from vegetables and fruits, packaged along with fiber, vitamins, minerals and enzymes – you’d only be consuming around 15 grams per day.

    But the average adolescent gets 73 grams of fructose per day… from sweetened drinks alone!

    We have taken fructose out of its evolutionary context. And in doing so are suffering a set of metabolic consequences that our Paleo ancestors never did. For those of us following a Paleo diet, enjoying a date-sweetened truffle or maple syrup brownies may seem like an innocent indulgence. And if it is only occasional, then it is innocent.

    But many people are operating under the assumption that these are “free foods” to be eaten as often as desired. Dates and maple syrup are mainstays many “Paleo” grocery lists. But as your consumption of these foods goes up, so does your intake of fructose.

    To put your average fructose consumption in perspective, consider the amounts in these common foods:

    Figs, 1 cup – 23 g
    Raisins, 1/4 cup – 12 g
    Apple, 1 medium – 10 g
    Banana, 1 medium – 7 g
    Date (medjool, 1 medium) – 8 g
    Blueberries, 1 cup – 7 g
    Blackberries, 1 cup – 3.5 g
    Cranberries, 1 cup – 0.7 g
    Grapefruit, medium – 8.6 g
    Maple syrup, 1 Tbsp. – 6 g
    Honey, 1 Tbsp. – 12 g
    It’s easy to see how using concentrated sources of sweetness – like dried fruits, maple syrup and honey – in “Paleo” dessert recipes can quickly drive fructose intake to unhealthy levels.

    A Low Sugar Diet = A Longer, Healthier Life

    When reaching for fructose-containing foods – weigh the benefits. For example, a cup of dark berries is a better choice than a cup of melon, as it is rich in powerful antioxidants and lower in fructose. Similarly, raw honey – in small amounts – provides antioxidant benefits.

    For natural sweetening power in your baking, consider creating a low sugar, low fructose blend of the following:

    Coconut Sugar – Produced from the nectar of coconut flower buds, coconut sugar is 70-80% sucrose, of which half is fructose. Per tablespoon, coconut sugar contains 12 grams of sugar and 6 grams of fructose. Use sparingly – 1 Tbsp. per 12 servings.
    Coconut Nectar – Also produced from coconut flower buds, coconut nectar gives a rich caramel flavor to desserts. Per tablespoon, coconut nectar contains 13 grams of sugar and 6.5 grams of fructose. Use sparingly – 1 Tbsp. per 12 servings.
    Organic Molasses – Rich in minerals, a small amount of molasses can add a rich flavor to baked goods. Per tablespoon, molasses contains 14 grams of sugar and 7 grams of fructose. Use sparingly – 1 Tbsp. per 12 servings.
    Non-GMO or Organic Erythritol – A zero calorie, zero glycemic sugar alcohol sweetener found in common foods like pears, watermelon and soy sauce. It has antioxidant properties and can be used in baking, cup for cup, just like sugar. Choose non-GMO and organic varieties.
    Stevia – A potent sweet herb that is best combined with erythritol to boost sweetness levels. Contains zero calories and zero sugar.
    Luo Han Guo – Derived from a super-sweet melon, this potent sweetener has no calories or sugar and is best used with erythritol.
    For optimum health, enjoy the native foods our ancestors did – filling your plate with nutrient-dense grass-fed beef, pastured poultry, wild fish and colorful vegetables – while keeping total daily sugars and fructose low (25 grams and 15 grams, respectively).

    Mike wrote on January 13th, 2014
  31. good info Mike, thanks!!!

    nikko wrote on February 25th, 2014
  32. I drink 1% milk. I’m going to do some more researching before changing to whole milk. I don’t have too much body fat, but want to lose a bit more so I’m hesitant.

    Anthony wrote on March 5th, 2014
  33. @anthony Eating fat does not make you fat. The sugars in milk are what make you fat.

    nikko wrote on March 9th, 2014
    • And I would add, the natural hormones that cows milk contains are meant for young calves to grow from 100 lbs to 500 lbs within a year (I don’t believe they are good for my prostate) – to say nothing of the possible added hormones or destruction of nutrients by pasteurization and homogenization. Milk does not a body good? I don’t think so!

      John wrote on March 11th, 2014
      • What a joke! If the 12 grams of sugar I get from drinking a glass or two of organic grass fed whole milk the cause of getting me fat and not correlated with my getting fat I would agree with you. As is I’m in great shape and love milk and won’t be getting up to 500 pounds in any foreseeable future. By the way, tell that to most of the dairy producing countries in Northern Europe who live about as long as the Japanese to stop all that milk consumption.

        victor wrote on April 6th, 2014
  34. I just finished the 21 day sugar detox and then Mark’s 21 day transformation. I feel ten years younger–so much energy. I love the fact that both of these programs cut all processed foods and sugars but allow/encourage raw, full fat dairy.

    We’re lucky to live in a place where we can get raw Jersey butter and milk from a local farmer. I use butter on my veggies and also make kefir from raw milk and have that once a day in a smoothie.

    Having the raw, full fat dairy is a huge ‘treat’ to me and part of why I feel like i’m eating like a king (along with the grass-fed meats and organic veggies) and don’t feel deprived at all. I’m also shedding weight like nobody’s business. The CLA and probiotics in the kefir have turned my appetite off and keep my gut and metabolism running better than they have in years. I’m a huge fan of raw dairy!

    In fact, I plan to try out this ‘raw milk fast’ once our CSA season has ended:
    http://www.yourfamilyfarmer.com/fresh-thoughts/i-really-shouldnt-tell-you-this

    Jane wrote on August 10th, 2014

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