fat freak out: why fat isn’t always bad and fat free usually is

One of the interesting parts of the rationale for the proposed nutrition labels is that “calories from fat” will be eliminated as a category, since the type of fat is more important than the amount. This is actually a huge departure from the mentality that our country has had for years – that fat is bad. We’ve been fat-phobic for generations, with a myriad of “fat free” and “low-fat” labels slapped on every food product for miles.

So why have we not been any healthier as a population as a result? That’s obviously a larger question than I can answer here, but there are several reasons why “fat free” and “low-fat” options are not always the way to go.

First, taste. I mean, have you ever tried to eat fat free “cheese”? I can’t even write cheese without the quotes there because it’s obviously some laboratory science experiment when cheese doesn’t melt and tastes like silly putty. Blech.

More important, though, is nutrition and health. When items need a label to tell you their healthy qualities, they usually aren’t that healthy. This is why they don’t put a “fat free” label on apples. You typically see the label on dairy products and packaged foods of one kind or another. Products that need to be “health washed,” like fat free cookies or chips are ones you should stay away from in general, so there’s no point in eating the fat free variety. A fat free Cheez-It is still a Cheez-It. There is also research that shows that a hormone produced by fat cells can help send satiety signals to your brain. So when you binge on a whole bag of fat free cookies and justify it by saying “they were fat free!” that could be part of the problem.

Your body needs fat to function. It helps to absorb vitamins – fat soluble A,D,E and K, specifically. It contains things like omega-3s and omega-6s, essential fatty acids that help with brain function and mood (and which you can only get from food). Low-fat or fat free diets also lower your HDL (referred to as “good cholesterol”), which your body needs to be high to help fight heart disease. 

There’s a gentle balance to a healthy diet between carbs, fat and protein. Usually if you drastically reduce one, you jack up another. (Hence the crazy popular diets like Atkins or South Beach.) Most fat-free snacks are insanely high in carbs, which have their share of issues as well. Sometimes when you cut out fat in dairy and meat, you are also reducing your protein, especially if you don’t make up for it in other sources.

As a side note, I find it interesting that people freak out when I say I drink whole milk. But that’s so fattening!, they say. They then go on to tell me they drink 2% milk. Well, whole milk is 3% fat. Not 100% fat. And more studies are showing a correlation between whole dairy products and reduction of body fat. Not that you should go nuts with the whole fat dairy. Or some red meats, which can be high in saturated fat.

Choosing good fats, like poly and mono unsaturated fats and limiting saturated fats (and not eating any trans fats, which you usually find in processed foods) is the key. I use real butter, not margarine. (Really the only thing margarine is good for is a lubricant to help you remove a tight ring from your finger or grease up the bottom of a sled.) I just don’t use it all the time. You don’t get high cholesterol by eating a tablespoon of butter or having a serving of whole milk or three ounces of steak. The key, like many things in life, is balance and moderation.

raw milk: beyond the hype

A lot of topics in the world of food politics and safety can get people’s feathers ruffled, but one of the subjects that seems to bring out the most vitriol and judgment is raw milk. Let me state unequivocally that raw milk is not for everyone and no one should ever be pressured into eating something that makes them uncomfortable or denied the right to eat what they want. This is just one person’s perspective on why raw milk is what we drink in our house. 

Raw milk is exactly what it sounds like – milk straight out of the cow. Unpasteurized and unhomogenized. Before you can understand why raw milk is different, you have to understand the difference between pasteurization and homogenization.  

Pasteurization refers to the process of heating milk to a particular temperature to destroy pathogens. All milk that you will buy in the store is pasteurized, at least in Pennsylvania. (Other states have different laws.) Pasteurization does kill harmful bacteria in milk, but it also removes the good bacteria that are present, and it removes vitamins that are also naturally present. Thus, when you see milk labeled “enriched with vitamin this and that” it means that vitamins were added back in after processing.

Homogenization is a process that uses immense pressure to emulsify the fat and water in milk. In whole milk, the cream will rise to the top, leaving what we know as 2% milk underneath. To get whole milk, you shake the container to redistribute the cream back in. Alternatively, you pull the cream from the top and use it separately, and drink the 2% milk. Americans don’t like to have to deal with the separating parts of milk, and they prefer to have options of varying levels of fat, so homogenization was born. Pressure is applied to the milk, which homogenizes it (after whatever amount of fat/cream is removed from the milk.) 
You can drink pasteurized milk that isn’t homogenized, and you won’t be taking any of the risks associated with drinking raw milk, which is the potential for harmful bacteria. This is why the CDC recommends that you only drink pasteurized milk. But at Next Gen House, we don’t. And here’s why.
While it is true that every time you drink raw milk you are taking the chance that some bad bacteria could be in there and could make you sick, this chance is incredibly small when you source your raw milk like we do – you don’t have to worry about sanitary conditions as much as you do when you have hundreds of cows smashed together and sharing the same milking equipment. Plus, we know that our farmer milks that same cow to provide milk for his own family. He has more reasons besides profit to make sure the milk is safe.
Other reasons I drink raw milk include:

(1) I try to eat my foods as minimally processed as possible, which means I only drink whole milk and I prefer it not to be homogenized. I am perfectly capable of shaking a bottle. 

(2) I want the benefit of the vitamins and “good bacteria” that are naturally present in milk, particularly because of my digestive issues and the fact that I cannot eat fiber supplements or many high-fiber foods due to my thyroid medication. 

(3) I like the taste of raw milk and how it varies slightly through the seasons, as the cow is eating different foods and plants. 

(4) Whether or not I will continue to drink raw milk for my entire life, I believe in the right of people to eat what they want, and will support people’s rights to drink raw milk. I know the risks and choose to take them, just as other people take risks every day by consuming alcohol, driving a car or smoking cigarettes. I don’t really think the risk of raw milk is akin to smoking a cigarette, but the point remains that the government does not control all risks a person can take to his/her bodily health, thus it should stay out of my milk choices.

(5) Quite simply, it lasts longer when it comes straight out of the cow.  

Cubicle activism

My ultimate point is that not every person who drinks raw milk is a back to the earth hippie who thinks that raw milk is a cure-all for every last disease on the planet. It’s milk, people. I’ve seen the videos of people who practically worship at the altar of raw milk and I think they’re nuts. BUT, frankly, I’m more scared of what’s in industrial meat than I am of what’s in my raw milk. But beyond all the hype and the fear mongering, there are solid reasons why a person would make the choice to drink raw milk and there are solid reasons why a person would choose to only drink pasteurized milk.

Raw milk isn’t for everyone. When I bake for people or for parties, I use pasteurized, non-homogenized milk from Manchester Farms, because I don’t feel like I have the right to make the choice of raw vs. pasteurized milk for other people. It’s all about what risks you are willing to take, and that is not something that one person can decide for another.