Which Is Better? Whole or Skim Milk
When we head to the grocery store, we’re faced with a myriad of options when it comes to our milk selection. Whole milk, 1 percent, 2 percent, skim, almond milk… the list goes on. So how do you choose the perfect addition to your cup of joe in the morning or foam to your latte?
Our Dietary Guidelines have consistently recommended skim milk (also known as nonfat or fat-free milk) to help prevent heart disease and reduce the amount of fat in our diet. But recent studies have shown whole milk might provide certain health benefits, especially when it comes to reducing heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
We’ll take a deeper dive into the difference between whole and skim, the benefits of both options, and share some tips about which option is best for you.
What’s the Difference?
Skim milk has the same nutrition facts as whole milk except for one major difference: there is no fat in skim milk. It all starts with how skim milk is made.
As told by The Kitchn, traditionally fat was naturally removed from milk due to gravity. If fresh milk is left to sit and settle, the cream —where most of the fat is — rises to the top, leaving behind milk with much less fat. Today, a contraption called a centrifugal separator divides the fat from the milk in a faster process.
Looking at the nutrition facts, almost everything is the same except calories, fat, and saturated fat. One cup of skim milk contains 90 calories, 0 grams of fat, and 0 grams of saturated fat, while the same sized glass of whole milk includes 145 calories, 8 grams of fat, and 5 grams of saturated fat. Both options contain the same amount of carbohydrates, sugar, protein and calcium.
Benefits of Skim Milk
It’s easy to see why national guidelines and experts recommended skim milk as the optimal choice. As noted, skim milk has fewer calories than whole milk, but it provides the same amount of protein and calcium. We know that consuming too many calories — and not burning them off — can lead to weight gain.
When following a strict “calories in vs. calories out” approach to staying slim, switching from whole milk to skim can be a simple solution to reduce calories while still receiving the nutrients found in milk.
Skim milk is also contains zero saturated fat, which can be a contributing factor to diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, “saturated fat raises blood cholesterol levels. High blood cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease.” Limiting your saturated fat can help lower your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. But there is a case to be made for saturated fats in milk, as we’ll discuss later.
If you crave cappuccinos or lattes, you’re in luck if you prefer skim milk. Skim milk is better than whole milk when it comes to foaming. Skim milk is quickly foamed because it's fortified with protein that helps create foam and keep it stabilized.
The Case for Whole Milk
Researchers are starting to come around on whole milk as a healthy option. For years, saturated fat and fat were associated with heart disease and weight gain, but we are now starting to see that it might actually reduce your risk of diabetes and obesity.
In a study published in Circulation, researchers analyzed biomarkers of 3,333 adults over a period of 15 years. They found that people who had higher levels of full-fat dairy products had a 44% lower risk of diabetes compared to those with lower levels. These findings directly contradict policies or diet tips recommending only low-fat dairy products.
You’ll find similar results in obesity. In a separate study in the American Journal of Nutrition, researchers assessed the effects of full-fat and low-fat dairy on obesity among 18,438 women. They found those who consumed the most high-fat dairy products lowered their risk of being overweight or obese by 8%.
If you hit the gym for muscle gain, whole milk might be the best choice for you. Studies show consuming whole milk post-workout increases muscle growth at a greater rate compared to skim milk.
How Does More Fat Help You Lose Weight?
It sounds counterintuitive, but eating more fat can lead to weight loss. In fact, researchers are still trying to figure out study results and why whole-fat dairy products are linked to lower rates of obesity.
One theory focuses on how full (or satiated) you feel after drinking whole milk. Whole milk is more filling than skim, and people who consume it may feel fuller longer and consequently eat less throughout the day. As a nutrient-packed and satisfying beverage, it could also stop the temptation to go for a less-healthy snack.
If you’re focused on cutting out fat, you may accidentally start loading up on carbohydrates, which the body turns into sugar, and eventually becomes body fat. Carbohydrate consumption can also lead to increased levels of diabetes, obesity, and high cholesterol levels. So in the end, avoiding saturated fat may not be beneficial at all.
At the end of the day, it’s best to consider your entire diet and not focus on cutting out a single ingredient, nutrient, or food. Both skim and whole milk provide health benefits – it just depends on how you form the rest of your diet to find the perfect balance.