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Observational studies like these, suggesting dairy might not be so bad, can be confounded by extraneous factors, such as the fact that people who eat more cheese tend to be of higher socioeconomic class. Fine, but what about this interventional study? A randomized, crossover trial, which compared a high-fat cheese diet, to a high-fat meat diet, to a low-fat diet. A high-cheese diet: CHEESE, which is loaded with saturated fat; a high meat diet: MEAT, which is loaded with saturated fat; versus CARB, a low-fat diet. And, people ended up with the same cholesterol levels.
Let’s see how they did it. Half the study was paid for in part by the dairy industry, and the other half paid for by dairy, dairy, dairy, and dairy. If you’re the dairy industry, and you’re trying to design a study to show that a high-cheese diet doesn’t raise cholesterol, how would you go about doing that?
Anyone remember this video? It’s one of my favorites. The beef industry was in the same pickle as the cheese industry. Beef has saturated fat, which raises cholesterol, which raises the risk of dying from our #1 killer. What’s an industry to do? So, they designed a study where they added beef, and cholesterol went down.
How is that possible? Here’s the two diets. They added beef, and the cholesterol went down. They did this by cutting out so much dairy, poultry, pork, fish, and eggs that their overall saturated fat intake was cut in half. They cut saturated fat levels in half, and the cholesterol levels went down. Well, duh. They could have swapped in Twinkies and said snack cakes lower your cholesterol, or frosting or anything.
Okay, so now that you know the trick, let’s go back to this study. The way to get the same cholesterol levels is to make sure all three diets have the same amount of saturated fat. How are you going to get a high-fat cheese diet and a high-fat meat diet to have the same saturated fat level as a diet with neither? Unless… Wait, don’t tell me. What? They added coconut oil or something to the other diet? They added so much coconut oil and cookies to the so-called low-fat diet that they all had the same amount of saturated fat, and voilà! That’s how you can make a cheese- or meat-rich diet that doesn’t raise cholesterol.
That reminds me of the desperation evident in this study that compared the effects of dairy cheddar cheese to a nondairy cheddar cheese called Daiya. Milk consumption has plummeted in recent years as people have discovered plant-based alternatives like soy milk and almond milk. And now there’s plant-based cheese alternatives? What’s the National Dairy Council to do? How are you going to design a study that shows it’s healthier to eat cheese; design a study where cheese causes less inflammation than the vegan alternative. They got their work cut out for them. Daiya is no health food by any stretch, but definitely three times less saturated fat than cow cheese. So, I give up. How could you possibly show more inflammation from Daiya?
Well, there is one fat that may cause more inflammation than milk fat: palm oil. In fact, it may raise cholesterol levels as much as trans fat-laden partially hydrogenated oil. Yeah, but what are you telling me? They like slipped the Daiya group some extra palm oil on the side. Yes, can you believe it? They compared cheese to Daiya “plus palm oil”—so much extra palm oil that the vegan alternative meal ended up having the same amount of saturated fat as the cheese meal. That’s like proving tofu is worse than beef by doing a study where they compared a beef burger to a tofu patty…stuffed with lard. Oh, wait, the meat industry already did that, but at least they had the decency to concede that “Replacement of meat with tofu in the habitual diet would not usually be accompanied by the addition of butter and lard.”
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