The Case of Full-Fat Probiotic-Rich Dairy

People may be in a dilemma as to which type of milk, full-fat or low-fat dairy is best for them. The latest research points out that full-fat milk is a healthier option. Keep reading to find out more.

By URLife Team
03 Jan 2024

Milk has been an integral component of human diets for centuries. And it's not just milk, but it’s by-products as well that are extremely popular. Whether it’s cheese, butter, yoghurt or ghee. In the Indian context, milk becomes even more significant, as India is the largest milk-producing country in the world. With a large population of vegetarians, milk is a staple in many Indian households.


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There's a growing consensus supporting the nutritional value of dairy fat as a rich source of bioactive compounds. Among these compounds are butyric acid (4:0) and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), exclusive to dairy fat sources. Opting for low-fat or fat-free dairy products could lead to a deficiency in these compounds, which exhibit health-promoting benefits within the human body. Presently, the dairy industry stands out as the primary sector utilising probiotics. However, challenges persist regarding the stability and effectiveness of probiotics in food products. With the escalating demand for health-conscious options, it becomes imperative to devise strategies that encourage the consumption of functional foods.


Related story: Is Plant-Based Milk Good For You?


Probiotics and Their Role

According to a 2023 study issued in the journal Dairy, probiotics, often termed "good" or "beneficial" bacteria, play a pivotal role in maintaining a healthy gut environment. These living microorganisms, when consumed in adequate amounts, contribute to the balance of the gut microbiome.


They aid in:

Gut Health

Probiotics assist in maintaining a harmonious balance of microorganisms in the digestive tract, which is crucial for optimal digestion and absorption of nutrients. They help regulate bowel movements and alleviate symptoms of certain gastrointestinal issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD).


Immune System Support

A significant portion of our immune system resides in the gut. Probiotics contribute to the strengthening of the immune response, helping to ward off infections and potentially reducing the severity and duration of certain illnesses.


Digestive Health

Probiotics aid in breaking down food, enhancing the digestion process, and synthesising essential nutrients. They also help prevent the overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the gut, promoting overall digestive well-being.


Related story: Good Gut Food: Prebiotics ANd Probiotics


Dairy as a Source of Probiotics

Dairy products, especially full-fat options like yoghurt, kefir, and certain cheeses, are natural reservoirs of live and active cultures. These cultures are strains of beneficial bacteria, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, which contribute to the probiotic content of these dairy products. When individuals consume full-fat dairy containing live cultures, they introduce these beneficial bacteria into the gut. The live cultures survive the digestive process and reach the intestines, where they colonise and positively influence the gut microbiome. Regular consumption of such dairy products can contribute to a thriving gut flora, promoting digestive health and potentially bolstering the immune system.


According to a 2023 study issued in the journal Food Reviews International, after passing the biological barriers (pH, digestive enzymes) of the gastrointestinal tract, probiotics take action and impact human health.  Some biological activities include antimicrobial, antimutagenic, antigenotoxic, improvement of lactose tolerance, cancer prevention, and immunomodulation.


Related story: The Link Between Gut Bacteria And Our Mind


Comparison With Low-Fat Dairy Alternatives

There are studies suggesting that despite the higher fat content in the diet emphasising full-fat dairy, it did not notably influence blood pressure or cholesterol levels in these individuals compared to diets with restricted or low-fat dairy intake.


A 2021 study conducted by Kratz, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, examined 72 patients diagnosed with metabolic syndrome—a combination of conditions associated with an increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke. This study revealed participants following a diet rich in full-fat dairy, with a minimum intake of three servings a day, showed no significant impact on blood pressure or cholesterol levels compared to those on a diet limited in dairy or one rich in low-fat dairy alternatives.


The presence of fat in full-fat dairy aids in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K. Additionally, the fat content in whole dairy products may contribute to increased satiety, potentially leading to reduced overall calorie intake compared to low-fat options.


Health Considerations

Saturated Fat Debate

While concerns about saturated fat in full-fat dairy exist, emerging evidence questions the direct link between saturated fat in dairy and negative health outcomes. A 2020 study issued in the Journal of American College of Cardiology shows that whole-fat dairy, unprocessed meat, and dark chocolate are SFA-rich foods with a complex matrix that are not associated with increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.


Metabolic Health

The relationship between full-fat dairy and cardiovascular health has yielded intriguing findings. Contrary to earlier assumptions, moderate consumption of full-fat dairy might not adversely affect cardiovascular health. In fact, it might even have positive impacts on metabolic health markers, such as improved insulin sensitivity and a favourable lipid profile. These studies indicate a need for a nuanced understanding of the role of full-fat dairy in the context of overall dietary patterns and individual health profiles.


How Much Dairy is Too Much?

A 2021 report by the Harvard Health Publishing, dairy can indeed be a part of a healthy eating plan, consuming one to three servings a day is generally adequate for most women. A personalised approach to dairy consumption, considering individual health factors and dietary requirements while recognizing that excessive dairy intake may not necessarily yield additional health benefits.


These findings challenge the conventional wisdom surrounding full-fat dairy, suggesting potential benefits that extend beyond what was previously understood. While acknowledging concerns about saturated fat, the evidence indicates a need for a reevaluation of its impact, considering the broader context of dietary patterns and individual health profiles.


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