If you’re anything like me, you’re picky about your milk. I always cringe when I realize I picked up the wrong kind of milk at the grocery store and I have to find ways to use it up. However, maybe you’ve been buying the wrong milk your whole life. While dietary guidelines have been suggesting low-fat milk for years, some studies show that whole milk may actually be the better choice.
Before we get into the research, let’s go over what skim, low-fat, and whole milk really mean. Skim milk is fat free. Low-fat and reduced-fat milk (like 2%) means that the 2% of the total weight of the milk is milkfat. Whole milk is only 3.25% milkfat, which is about the level milk naturally is from the cow.
How do dairy processors change the fat level of the milk? Processors use a separator or centrifuge to remove the fat from the milk, then add it back in to reach the desired amount. Regardless of the type of milk, each glass still contains the same amount of calcium and protein.
So, if whole milk has more fat in it, how can it be good for you? According Adam Lock, Ph.D., assistant professor of animal science at Michigan State University, fats in whole dairy foods are incredibly complex, containing more than 400 different fatty acids paired with protein, calcium, and other nutrients that work with the fat in milk.
In another series of recent studies, researchers focused on whole milk consumption in relation to diseases typically associated with saturated fat. In a study from The Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care, men who had a high intake of dairy fat had a lower risk of central obesity. In a comprehensive review of these studies, evidence suggested that high-fat dairy consumption was actually inversely associated with risk of obesity.
Whole milk pairs fat with those fat soluble vitamins you may have learned about in nutrition: vitamin A and vitamin D. While you can get the same vitamins in skim milk, you need the fat to absorb them and it needs to be in the same meal. So unless you are enjoying some bacon with your skim milk, you won’t be getting the full benefits that your glass of milk has to offer.
Milk is a great drink choice (or cereal companion), regardless of fat content. Maybe next time, give a glass of whole milk a try. Your body will thank you.