Thursday, November 12, 2015

Say Cheese!

I just read an interesting article in the newsletter of our local food co-op, PCC Natural Markets, about cheese, and I'm happy to see it because I've been trying to eliminate dairy, after reading Loren Cordain, author of The Paleo Diet and The Paleo Answer, and I love dairy!  Of course, our paleo ancestors didn't consume dairy after infancy.  (Paleo Leap says: Not practical to milk wild game.)  But here's what the PCC article says about it:
 For decades, we've watched the French eat twice as much cheese as us Americans, while enjoying much lower rates of heart disease.  This "French Paradox" led researchers on a quest to explain why French people's extraordinarily high saturated fat intake doesn't lead to more heart attacks.  
The latest research on cheese and other fermented dairy foods, such as yogurt and kefir, suggests it might not be a "paradox" at all.  Instead, we just now may be starting to understand the health benefits of cheese and other fermented dairy.

One of our go-to snacks

The article points out that recent research is disproving the dire warnings about saturated fat that many of us have been hearing much of our lives.  The saturated fat in dairy comes from short- and medium-chain fatty acids which have beneficial or neutral impact on blood cholesterol levels.  Milkfat is the best source of naturally occurring trans fatty acids that provide health benefits, unlike the synthetic trans fats found in margerine.  The natural trans fats are produced during digestion in ruminant animals such as cows or goats, and are in largest quantity in 100% grass-fed whole-milk dairy products.

I founds several studies about the benefit of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) to humans, but most are about how we make our own when plant fiber is fermented in the colon.  One paper, from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, talks about getting them from dairy.  It stresses that the makeup of the fatty acids depends on the animals' feed, which is an argument for milk from grass-fed animals.  Another paper, in Nature Communications, discusses how SCFAs may reduce appetite.

The PCC article points out that cultured dairy products such as cheese, yogurt and sour cream taste less sweet and more tangy because the lactose (milk sugar) has been used up by the healthy bacteria during fermentation.  Even for people who are not lactose intolerant, lactose can contribute to inflammation.  Fermentation also increases the vitamins and natural trans fatty acids in milk and adds pre- and pro-biotics.  Proteins are broken into smaller peptides which may improve blood pressure and immune function.  The article says molded cheeses produce even more nutrients (though probably not enough to tempt those of us who don't care for the taste of those moldy ones!)

A favorite cottage cheese lunch

I checked with my friends at Paleo Leap and they even have some good to say about dairy - although in the context of the "good, bad and ugly".  They said if you're going to consume dairy, fermented dairy is the best choice, because the fermentation process adds good bacteria and consumes most of the sugars, reducing the insulin response.  Their post ends with:
It can’t get much better than this (raw, pasture-raised, grass-fed, full fat goat’s yogurt)!

So, I'm going to start eating more cheese, sour cream and yogurt without guilt  : )   The article listed butter, buttermilk, cottage cheese and cream cheese as "sometimes fermented".   I love cottage cheese so I checked and found that Nancy's brand cottage cheese advertises that it is cultured and contains live probiotics.  Yea!  (It is lowfat only, I didn't find any Nancy's full fat cottage cheese.)

And so is their cream cheese!

Sunshine Dairy also lists cottage cheese on their page of cultured products, although it doesn't say specifically that it has live cultures.  I will read the label carefully next time I shop!

I found cultured butter too - at Organic Valley.  We use a lot of butter so I'll see how it tastes and how much it costs.  It would be nice to know our butter is actually good for us!

I checked our current favorite butter, Kerrygold Irish Butter, but they don't mention cultured, either on the website or on the package I have in the fridge.  I did run into this yummy-sounding recipe on their site however, Butter Braised Nectarine and Aged Cheddar Salad.  I'll be trying it next summer, or hmmm, I could try it now with some leftover peach slices I have in the freezer!  (It was good!)

The PCC Natural Markets article points out that much of the recent published research on dairy is from Denmark and Sweden, two countries with high dairy consumption, and much is funded by the dairy industry.  However, they are glad to see a distinction being made between fermented and non-fermented, and also between whole and low-fat.  The article's final point:
It's very likely that the difference between "drinking milk" and "eating dairy" is a significant and important distinction.


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