What’s the Deal with Full Fat Dairy?

When I worked as a primary care dietitian, not a day passed without me recommending the substitution of low-fat or nonfat dairy products for their full-fat counterparts. Whether I was seeing someone with heart disease or high cholesterol, obesity or diabetes, choosing low-fat/nonfat dairy was a no-brainer. However, a growing body of evidence suggests this recommendation may be at best ineffective, and at worst counterproductive.

There were two main reasons the medical field touted the superiority of low-fat dairy for so long:

  • Saturated fat has long been associated with high cholesterol and heart disease. Full fat dairy is higher in saturated fat than low-fat/nonfat dairy.
  • Low calorie diets are associated with healthy weight management. Full fat dairy is higher in calories than low-fat/nonfat dairy.

What’s changed? The short answer is nutrition science itself. Until recently, nutrition science has focused on isolated nutrients instead of actual foods.

In the case of saturated fat and heart disease, science looked at the effect of saturated fat overall. It did not distinguish whether it came from animal fat (think the fatty gristle on a t-bone steak), dairy fat (think whole milk) or vegetable fat (think coconut oil). All foods have unique fatty acid profiles, each of which may have different metabolic effects. Even a food group’s subsets, like milk, yogurt, cheese and butter, which all fall under the dairy umbrella, have different profiles and different effects. When the full fat dairy group is teased out from the other saturated fat sources, it does not appear to be significantly related to risk of heart disease.

In the case of calories and weight control, science has long held that a calorie, is a calorie, is a calorie. Fat has more calories per gram than protein and carbohydrates (9 calories per gram versus 4 calories per gram), so therefore reducing calories by choosing lower fat alternatives was thought to aid in weight management. However, new research indicates that full fat dairy is associated with improved weight control. While the reason isn’t fully understood, one hypothesis is that full fat dairy is more filling than low-fat/non fat dairy alternatives, so those who consume the latter compensate by eating more calories (most often from refined carbohydrates) later on.

So, what’s a dairy eater to do? Here are my recommendations:

  • Enjoy full fat versions of the dairy you currently consume if you’d like. Be moderate. Three servings of dairy a day is plenty. That could be one cup whole Greek yogurt for breakfast, a small whole milk cappuccino midmorning and an ounce or two of cheese crumbled atop a salad for dinner. At home, I’ve stuck with 1% milk because, after years of nonfat, anything more than that tastes too creamy. Similarly, 2% Greek yogurt is rich enough for me so that’s what I stick with for now. This is what I mean with “if you’d like.” The research isn’t strong enough yet to necessitate a complete overhaul.
  • Fermented plain full fat dairy like yogurt and kefir seems to be the most beneficial of all full fat dairy products, so extra points for regularly including these foods in your diet.
  • Avoid low-fat/nonfat and full fat dairy with added sugars or sugar substitutes. I know fruited yogurt is a go-to kids snack. Parents should think of these as dessert for their kids just as they would ice cream.
  • Unfortunately, research still doesn’t favor butter. Use it sparingly and substitute olive oil whenever possible.
  • The bulk of your diet should be vegetables and fruit (at least half), whole grains, nuts and seeds, legumes and other lean proteins like fish and eggs. These foods are indisputably good for you.

One final note. Nutrition science is so young. The direction of research today indicates that full fat dairy isn’t the no-no we once thought it was but that doesn’t mean we should accept this as indisputable fact for life. Nutrition science will continue to evolve so it’s important to be open to new developments but at the same time be skeptical about where your information is coming from. As Dr. David Katz, Director of Yale University’s Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, says:

“It is the least substantiated, most uninformed opinions about how to eat that will come at you with the greatest conviction. That’s your first clue that something is awry, because true expertise always allows for doubt.”

xo Laura

 

Get to Know It: Chickpea Flour

Socca, an unleavened pancake made from chickpea flour and water.

Chickpeas are an ingredient we know and love. They’re satiating and a great source of plant-based protein. And, like most legumes, they provide an excellent canvas for flavor. You can really dress them up in any way you like.

We eat them chilled in our summer bean salads, warm in our winter stews. Pureed in our hummus, fried in our falafel. We love to roast them to crispy, baked perfection. To munch on them as a snack, to include them in our kitchen sink salads. Basically, we love to consume chickpeas pretty much any way, at pretty much any time.

But how often do you find yourself cooking with chickpea flour? If you’re anything like me, the answer is probably not too often.

Chickpea flourtraditionally made by grinding raw chickpeasis gluten free and nutrient dense. Like whole chickpeas, it’s a fantastic source of protein, and one that doesn’t come with an ominous use-by date. It has a really nice flavor and a rather dense texture, so it holds up well during cooking and tastes delicious once it’s done.

You can use chickpea flour in many ways, most of which are easy, fast, healthy and economical. Read: this is an ingredient worth getting to know.

Not sure where to begin? I can’t think of a better way to break the ice than by making socca.

Socca, native to France, is an unleavened pancake that can be made from equal parts chickpea flour and water. The process will seem friendly to even the most novice cooks. It requires little more than whisking flour and water, heating a lightly oiled pan and cooking a pancake. Isn’t that lovely?

But there’s room for adventure, too.

For instance, you could amp up your socca with egg a la this genius recipe for “cromlet”, a chickpea-omelette hybrid developed at Bon Appetit and beloved by the team here at WWE.

Or perhaps you’d like to use it as a gluten and dairy free roux in your next vegan sauce, as Lindsey Love, a fellow chickpea flour evangelist, suggests.

Love also wrote this recipe for za’tar spiced chickpea crackers, which look to be delicious, healthful and minimalist all at once. They consist of little more than chickpea flour, olive oil and water.

Other intriguing uses: pizza, wraps, baking (it’s a trustworthy binder) and soups, to name a few.

But don’t let me get carried away. If you’re new to chickpea flour, how about a simple, anything-goes, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants Salad Socca? The guidelines are straightforward:

Purchase some chickpea flour (also called garbanzo or gram flour), then head to the farmer’s market and fill your tote with spring produce. Make your way home. Make a salad, then make socca, then top the socca with the salad. Easy, right?

A salad of baby greens, fennel and cucumber.

Below, a bit of inspiration: a recipe for a Salad Socca of my own creation. Let me know what you think of yours. Happy cooking!

 

Salad Socca

1 cup yogurt

1 tablespoon tahini

1 garlic clove, peeled and pressed

1 lemon, juiced and zested

Salt and pepper to taste

2 cups baby greens

1 fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced

1 small cucumber, thinly sliced

Olive oil to taste

½ teaspoon sumac (optional)

1 cup chickpea flour

1 cup water

 

In a small bowl, combine yogurt, tahini, garlic, half of the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Separately, combine greens, fennel and cucumber. Toss well with olive oil, remaining lemon juice, some lemon zest and salt and pepper to taste. Optionally, sprinkle with sumac.

In a medium bowl, combine 1 cup chickpea flour, 1 cup water and a healthy three-finger pinch of salt. Whisk until smooth.

Heat a medium (10-in or so) skillet, then add 1 tablespoon olive oil, or enough to lightly coat surface.

Pour socca batter into skillet and let cook, undisturbed, until golden brown on bottom. It will fill the entire skillet. Flip and repeat on other side.

Once done, top socca with a generous serving of tahini-yogurt. Using the back of a spoon or spatula, spread mixture to evenly coat. Using your hands, top with fennel and cucumber salad. Enjoy.

The Green Goddess

Green goddess dressing.

I’ve known about green goddess dressing for a while now, but I have to admit that up until recently, its ingredients were somewhat of a mystery to me. Herbs, of course, and something creamy, for sure. But was that greek yogurt, or was it buttermilk? Avocado, or just green herbs? A hint of anchovy, or am I just making things up?

I don’t know about you, but when I hear “green goddess” notions of healthy grain bowls, sunny weather and glowing skin come to mind. New Californian cooking. As far as I’m concerned, it sounds like quintessential health food branding. Right?

While many recipes proved my theory correct, featuring fresh, healthful ingredients like herbs, avocado, greek yogurt and lemon, I was surprised to learn that a wholesome green goddess recipe is something of a reformed party girl.

The green goddess got its start in 1920s New York, when a broadway show of the same name premiered and gained popularity. Following its rise, a chef at The Palace Hotel in San Francisco invented a green dressing in its honor.

A green goddess with cilantro, greek yogurt, avocado and lime.

And the original recipe had absolutely nothing to do with health. Think mayonnaise, sour cream, anchovies, tarragon and chives. Delicious? Definitely. Wholesome? Not so much.

That said, this recipe – now nearly a century old – is far from obsolete. Many contemporary green goddesses have decadent, old-school vibes, requesting a heavy hand with rich dairy and classic French herbs.

Personally, I prefer a green goddess with greek yogurt and lots of citrus. To me, these versions are cleaner and brighter.

But that’s what’s great about the green goddess. She’s a chameleon. You can really make this dressing your own. Craving something avocado-forward? Go for it. Need to finish that buttermilk before it goes bad? Use it. Want to make anchovies your star? Sounds great. Forgot them at the grocery store? It will still be delicious!

I suggest preparing a batch of green goddess on Sunday evening to get you through the start of your work week. It’s versatile, so making it doesn’t require committing to one specific dinner idea. You can dress your salads with it, marinate your proteins in it, use it to amp up your grain bowls, or even let it guest star on taco night.

Below, you’ll find a few renditions I know and like. If you’re going to marinate a protein, I suggest following this recipe by Melissa Clark. Otherwise, simply use the ideas below to spark your creativity. After all, that’s what the green goddess is all about.

Green Goddess I

Combine parsley, basil, greek yogurt, garlic, lemon juice and zest, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Blend until smooth.

Green Goddess II

Combine parsley, mint, basil, cilantro, sour cream, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Blend until smooth.

Adapted ever so slightly from Mina Stone’s recipe in Cooking For Artists (p 33).

Green Goddess III

Combine tarragon, chives, greek yogurt, anchovies*, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Blend until smooth.

*I suggest using 1-2 anchovies. If using, be sure to season less aggressively; anchovies add a lot of salt!

Green Goddess IV

Combine cilantro, avocado, greek yogurt, garlic, lime juice and zest, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

What We Believe About Eating Well

“Healthy” food is having its day. It seems like there’s a new Sweetgreen, By Chloe or juice bar along those lines opening up each time you turn your head in New York City.  Bon Appetit has launched a new brand and site, Healthyish, to “cover wellness through the lens of food.” Eighteen of Amazon’s 20 top selling cookbooks have a health focus. The hashtag #cleaneating has over 29.5 million posts and counting on Instagram. People are connecting the dots between how they eat and how they feel.

On the one hand, this is awesome. Think about it, we literally are what we eat. Every strand of hair, follicle of skin and organ in our bodies is made up of the building blocks provided by what we eat. I don’t know whether that fact will ever stop fascinating me. The more people realize and celebrate this, the better.

On the other hand, some of what I see makes me uneasy. The more interest there is in healthy eating, the more commoditized it becomes. Many of those making a business around it, whether as an Instagram celebrity or as a food company, are not as informed as they purport. They claim that their way of eating, or their product offers the optimum diet. Conviction is easier to sell.

“It is the least substantiated, most uninformed opinions about how to eat that will come at you with the greatest conviction. That’s your first clue that something is awry, because true expertise always allows for doubt.”

– Dr. David Katz, Founding Director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center

The truth is, there is not one way to eat well. Envision eating on a spectrum. On one end are total junk food diets. Think Doritos for breakfast, burger/fries for lunch and pizza for dinner. On the other end are more whole foods-based diets. Think tons of produce, lean proteins, whole grains and legumes, etc. There are endless ways to eat poorly and endless ways to eat well. If you are operating at the healthy end of the spectrum, there should be no anxiety around doing things “right” or “wrong”.

As a company, we strive to help our clients eat better no matter their choice of diet. We have clients who are vegan and animal-protein obsessed, gluten-free and grain-loving, dairy-averse and cheese-loving…you get the point. None are innately healthier than the other. It comes down to personal choice.

As a team, we enjoy all foods. Most of the time you’ll catch us crushing veggies but we never turn our noses up to a plate of the best fries or a good dessert. The former isn’t #cleaneating because it implies the latter is somehow dirty. It’s not! Its balanced. This isn’t “healthyish”. It’s healthy.

As this movement continues to boom, take heart in knowing that you’re probably already doing most things right. The devil is not in the details. And remember that while food is certainly a vehicle for health, it’s also about pleasure, culture and community. Enjoy it for all it has to offer!

With love always, xo Laura

It’s Okay to Fail

What We Eat: Success

In making healthy diet changes, you will fail. I know, I know, I sound like a negative Nancy (very out of character), but hear me out. Understanding this could be the key to helping you develop lifelong positive habits instead of throwing in the towel prematurely.

Adopting any new behavior is a process. It starts way before we actually actively make a change. Ground zero is when we are uninterested, unaware or unwilling to make the change. Step one is beginning to consider it. Step two is deciding to make the change and preparing to do it. Step three is making it. Step four is maintaining it. The final step? Step 5? Relapse! Failure! Falling off the wagon! Whatever you want to call it, research consistently shows that setbacks are the rule rather than the exception.

In my opinion, setbacks are especially expected with food-related changes because there are always times (as there should be) when we let go of our perfectly healthy diets. Maybe it’s because we’re celebrating a holiday, or maybe it’s because we’re stuck on a weeklong company retreat and we don’t get to choose what we eat. What really defines “successful” or healthy eating is not whether we never eat the wrong things or overindulge, but how quickly we recover from it to get back into our healthy eating routines. Over time, by making the duration of our setbacks shorter and shorter, our so-called relapses are really just lapses. Lapses, especially planned ones, are no big deal!

Setbacks can also be useful because they give us “data.” By investigating the situation surrounding our setbacks, we can better understand our weaknesses and create a plan to better overcome them next time. Think of them as learning experiences. Get curious, not guilty.

Example: “Wow, that’s interesting that as soon as work got hectic, not only did I stop cooking for myself but I also went back to my old ways of ordering burgers, nachos, whatever I darned well please, while eating out. Am I using food as a way to reward myself at the end of the day? Could I replace that with another non-food-related reward? What would it be? If I am going to be eating out a lot, how can I order something that might be similar to what I’d prepare for myself at home? Maybe I could check out menus online beforehand so I have a game plan.”

Setbacks give you the opportunity to be more successful in the future.

So the next time you “fail,” be kind to yourself. Take a little time to think about what led up to your setback, whether it has lasted a night, week, month or year(s). Create your game plan to get back on track and start immediately. All it takes is a few healthy meals strung together to change your mindset.

And to end with one of my favorite quotes, remember, “perfection is the enemy of progress.”