Navigating the Dairy Waters

Most of us have a love-hate relationship with foods in the dairy family. We love them because they are cool, creamy, luxurious, delicate, even nostalgic. We hate them because they often contain a lot of fat and saturated fat and aren't particularly nutrient-rich besides calcium and a couple vitamins. I think for most people the love still wins out over the hate in a sort of “I feel a little lousy about eating you, but you're just so good” kind of way. These are things we have been eating our whole lives, and in moderation, could continue eating. “But where's moderation with foods with such small serving sizes,” you ask. You may then choose to immerse yourself in the complex world that is reduced fat and nonfat dairy products to attempt to find less fat and calories without sacrificing any flavor or texture. That seems too good to be true, which is why many folks assume they're just too good to be good. But some really are true and good. So good that you can easily forget about the regular version and start loving the healthier version. On the other hand, some are hideous and need to be avoided at all costs. The taste/consistency of the original so far outweighs that of the healthy one that those benefits just are not worth it. So when is it worthwhile if not barely noticeable to go for the healthy one and when should we simply splurge a little with the original? Follow the simple guide below based on my experiences -- or test them all out yourself. But the former may be a lot easier.

Milk: Go for the fat, kinda. I think skim milk is gross and watery, and it actually has more sugar than richer forms of milk. I'll take the far better-tasting 1% or even 2% milk as a happy medium between fat content, sugar content and taste.

Cheddar Cheese: Go reduced fat. I find cheddar to be one of the better reduced fat cheeses out there. Go find a block of 75% reduced fat cheddar in the non-processed cheese section and you can enjoy a great, sharp cheddar taste for way less fat.

Feta Cheese: Go for the fat. I have found that feta is one of the most perverse and gross cheeses when made nonfat. It does not taste like cheese, let alone feta. Considering full-fat feta is one of the naturally lowest fat types of cheese, the choice here is simple. As far as cheese goes, you can have the best of both worlds with regular feta.

Goat cheese: Go reduced fat. I find that the low-fat Chevre found at many grocery stores is just as creamy and flavorful as regular Chevre. “Creamy” and “flavorful” are all I'm looking for, so I'll take the one with the lowest fat.

Greek yogurt: Go nonfat. Same flavor, same richness, same texture, low sugar and absolutely no fat. That's what makes this stuff awesome!

Yogurt: Go nonfat. The nonfat version of yogurt (even plain) still has a lot of sugar in it. I would still go for it. I’d recommend the nonfat 100 calorie creamy Yoplait cups.

Ice cream: Go reduced fat, with caution. Sure Edy's Rich and Creamy Slow Churned and Blue Bunny Low-fat are remarkably similar tasting to regular ice cream with WAY less fat. Just beware of flavors with chunks of toppings mixed in – big trans fat hiders. But if you avoid those, these ice creams are awesome.

Frozen yogurt: Go reduced fat. Edy's Slow Churned frozen yogurt is way better tasting than regular frozen yogurt and it has a puny amount of fat. That's a no brainer.

Sour cream: Go reduced fat. Regular sour cream just has way too much fat. The reduced fat kind still isn't great in terms of fat content, but it's a lot better than regular and is still cool, creamy and tangy, so it's still sour cream to me.

Eggs: Go for the fat. Egg beaters are nice, but they don't do much for you nutritionally beyond protein. Egg whites are nice but they don't do much for you nutritionally beyond protein either. With a full, regular egg, you absorb some good fats and other vitamins found in the yolk, besides the protein. Also, many now believe that eating eggs in moderation will not raise bad cholesterol, as is the customary belief, and some even believe that they can raise good cholesterol. I'm not a scientist and I'm not about to do a lit review, but I love how regular eggs taste and can be prepared, so I'll take the side of the eggs.

Pudding: Go reduced fat. You can get those little pudding cups now with very reduced fat and Splenda in place of sugar. And they have great tasting, innovative flavors. For a guilt-free little snack or dessert you could do far worse. Traditional pudding, loaded with whole milk, is far worse for you, with little change in the taste you're getting back in return.

Whipped cream: Go reduced fat. I've touched on this before, but the best whipped cream is actually in the middle of the fat spectrum. Nonfat whip like cool whip is essentially puffed trans fat, and also tastes disgusting. Full fat real whipped cream is the best thing ever, but it is just heavy whipping cream (a.k.a. pre-butter) with sugar. Go for the Reddi-whip or even nonfat Reddi-whip and still get a great whipped cream with a far more palatable fat content and no trans fat.

Cream cheese: Go reduced fat. Kind of like with feta and sour cream, the nonfat version of cream cheese is pretty gross tasting, but the reduced fat is great. It's still very much like cream cheese. I actually like it better than regular cream cheese, which I find too rich. Another good bet is the whipped cream cheese, where you eat less cream and more air per square inch of bagel than with normal, dense cream cheese.

Ranch dressing: Go reduced fat. Nonfat ranch dressing is really just not meant to be eaten. It kind of has a hint of cornstarch in its flavor and is just not right. I try not to eat ranch very often, but I have sampled some reduced fat kinds that were edible and not carrying the whopping price tag of a regular serving of ranch dressing nor the taste impediment of the nonfat type.

Okay, so I didn’t let you splurge as much you thought. But really that means I’m telling you to splurge MORE because I actually believe in many of the reduced fat and nonfat dairy products out there. So now you can float down the dairy river in style!

Have I forgot some of your favorites, or am I completely wrong on another? Comment below!