Milk in a glass and pitcher.
August 8, 2019

‘From Dairy Skeptic to Dairy Advocate’

 |  By: Jim Dickrell

Most people are pretty sure they know how the world works, and the beliefs they hold are grounded in both experience and fact. But what if you reach middle age, and things you “know” are true turn out to be wrong?

Jim Painter, a registered dietician and professor emeritus with Eastern Illinois University, had that epiphany about the fat, cholesterol and saturated fat in milk and dairy products after a lifetime believing and teaching that dairy is bad for you.

“Finally, I got it straight and I apologize to people…. I lied to them in the ‘70s and the ‘80s,” he says.

Painter made his comments on a recent podcast hosted by Lucas Lentsch, CEO of Midwest Dairy. For years, Painter preached that the fat, saturated fat and cholesterol are bad and might even kill you. But then he looked at the data.

There are now two dozen studies that show that dairy fat is not harmful. In fact, it is beneficial. For example, he says, “dietary cholesterol has almost nothing to do with blood cholesterol.”

The biggest problem is that associative studies were done decades ago, looking at what two groups of people were eating and then drew a cause-and-effect conclusion. But these studies really cannot determine what caused the problem, he says. “That’s how we got in the mess we are today,” he says.

Nutrition experts are hesitant, even loath, to back away from beliefs they have long held. Painter says it took him decades to come off his beliefs that dairy was bad. “It was a paradigm shift,” he says.

Looking at study after study of dairy’s benefits finally convinced him of the truth, he says.

But the myth that dairy products are bad for you persist, driven by money and pride. The way to combat those myths is with information and data, presented by third-party doctors and dieticians who have no financial ties to the dairy industry, he says.

Alternative beverages, such as almond and cashew drinks, have also benefitted from the health halo around nuts. But as beverages, neither are particularly healthy and it’s a false representation to claim that they are.

“When you turn almonds into almond ‘milk,’ you’re only getting four or five almonds per serving,” he says. “Milk has eight grams of protein per serving, almond ‘milk’ might have one, and cashew ‘milk’ has zero to one grams,” he says.

To hear Painter’s entire 30-minute podcast, click here.  Scroll to Episode 13. For more on Painter’s background, click here.