Eating for fat loss – Your last resort: Dairy

This is the last in a long series of posts about eating for fat loss. In our previous posts, we’ve outlined how you can change your diet to support your fat loss efforts in a series of steps.

This included some relatively straightforward measures:

And some more challenging steps for those looking to accelerate fat loss:

In this post, I’m going to cover briefly what you can do if you’ve incorporated all the dietary changes mentioned above but are looking for that one last weapon in your arsenal. The food group this will touch on we haven’t discussed before: dairy.

A brief introduction to dairy

Dairy comes from cowsDairy refers to any product made from another mammal’s milk. For the average person the vast majority of this will be cow’s milk with a bit of goat and sheep’s milk occasionally thrown into the mix.

As we all know, dairy can come in a variety of different forms each with its own nutritional properties including:

  • Milk (its purest form)
  • Cream
  • Butter
  • Yoghurt
  • Cheese (of various consistencies)
  • Various other forms including powders and ice creams

However, most dairy products share a few common nutritional components:

  • Fat (except where the product has been heavily treated)
  • Protein
  • Carbohydrate (with some exceptions)
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin B12
  • Calcium

Not all dairy is created equal

Generally speaking, the vitamins and minerals dairy products provide are quite beneficial which is why dairy is often mentioned as part of a healthy diet. However, you’ll notice that dairy products naturally contain all 3 types of macronutrients we’ve previously discussed (fat, protein & carb). The ratio of these can vary drastically between dairy products which means that they can have very different effects on your waistline.

Many of you will have heard that dairy products are fattening because they are high in fat. While it’s definitely true that dairy contains a fair bit of fat, you’ll remember from previous posts on fat loss that eating fat does not lead to storage of fat in the body. It’s actually carbohydrates that make your body store fat. Read our first post on fat loss for a recap on why that is.

Milk

Dairy: milkUnfortunately for the many people who enjoy milk in their coffee or by the glass, this is the dairy product that is most likely to impede your fat loss efforts. This isn’t actually surprising when one reflects on the fact that (as a comedian whose name escapes me once quipped) milk is a substance whose purpose is to turn small cows into big cows.

The first thing about milk that makes it fattening is that it actually has a fair bit of carbohydrate in it. If you turn the bottle around and have a look at the nutritional label, you’ll find there are at least 10 grams per glass. The situation gets even worse when the milk is skimmed or low-fat – carbohydrates then make up a bigger proportion of its nutrients.

Another issue with milk is that the proteins it contains are actually shown to create an insulinogenic response much like a carbohydrate would. In layman’s terms, milk puts your body into fat storage mode.

What this means in short is that if you’re trying to lose fat, stay away from milk, especially the skimmed variety.

Cream

Fortunately for those who can’t stand the idea of black coffee, cream fairs much better in the macronutrient breakdown than milk does. It’s primarily fat with a tiny bit of protein and doesn’t promote much of an insulin response. Nevertheless it’s calorically dense so I wouldn’t use too much of it!

Butter

Dairy: butterButter, much like cream, is primarily comprised of fat and so is not likely to make your body store fat. It’s actually a great and healthy substance to cook with rather than vegetable oils.

Please note, when I say butter here I mean the real deal. Margarines and other synthetic spreads are incredibly unhealthy for reasons we will cover in future posts. Suffice it to say, stick with the real thing, not the stuff that comes in a tub.

Yoghurt

Yoghurt is generally lauded for its natural probiotics and some people eat it almost every day. Unfortunately, it shares a lot of characteristics with milk including the fact that it contains some carbs and some proteins that may also encourage fat storage. Sadly, for those who are looking to get really lean, yoghurt may not be a great option.

Cheese

Dairy: cheeseThere are so many varieties of cheese that treating every one would be almost impossible. However, generally speaking, cheese is much safer in a fat loss context than other forms of dairy. The fermentation process converts the carbohydrates to acid and what is left behind is mainly fat with a bit of protein.

As with butter, this applies mainly to real cheese – don’t be fooled by the stuff that comes in individual plastic-wrapped slices!

So what should my approach to dairy be when I’m trying to lose fat?

All the details aside, the truth is that if you’re trying to get really lean and you’re making your final efforts to reach your goals, you’d probably be better off leaving out the dairy (except maybe some butter for cooking). Even where the carb content of dairy is low, it is incredibly high in calories. Grams of carbohydrate matter more than calories but at some point, calories do matter as well.

However, dairy products can probably be divided up into the following fat loss categories:

Bad for fat loss:
  • Milk
  • Yoghurt
  • Cottage cheese
OK in small quantities:
  • Cheese (only the real kind)
  • Cream
  • Butter (not margarine!)

With those guidelines and our previous posts on fat loss, you should now have all the information you need to create a diet that will support your body composition goals. Of course, exercise will help you get there faster but losing body fat is mostly about what you eat. Good luck with your efforts!

S2FC

Read our previous posts on fat loss:
Eating for fat loss – Step 1: Cut out sugar
Eating for fat loss – Step 2: Choosing your carbs
Eating for fat loss – Step 3: Booze & your belly
Eating for fat loss – Step 4: Take it Easy on the fruit
Getting serious about fat loss – Step 1: Reconsidering grains
Getting serious about fat loss – Step 2: Letting go of Legumes

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