Which is Healthier: Skim, Low-Fat or Full-Fat Milk

Monica Reinagel, MS, LDN
by Monica Reinagel, MS, LDN
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Which is Healthier: Skim, Low-Fat or Full-Fat Milk

For decades, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans have advised us to choose low-fat and fat-free dairy products because they are lower in calories and saturated fat than full-fat dairy products. But a slew of recent research has a lot of people reconsidering this conventional wisdom.

In a review of more than a dozen studies, researchers found that people who consumed more high-fat dairy products were actually no more likely to develop heart disease and actually less likely to be overweight than those who consumed less. In one of those studies, those who consistently chose low-fat milk and avoided butter and cream were actually twice as likely to become obese than those who ate butter and/or cream every day. And just this year, researchers reported that dairy fats might even be protective against developing Type 2 diabetes.

What’s behind this full-fat paradox? It could be that the extra fat in whole milk keeps you full a little longer and that helps cut down on between-meal snacking. Foods that are higher in fat are also more slowly digested and absorbed, which contributes to steadier blood sugar levels. Dairy foods also contain unique fatty acids, such as butyric and palmitoleic acids. These might somehow help regulate body weight — although this is still under study.

Anecdotally speaking…

I personally switched from low-fat to whole milk and yogurt about eight years ago, when I started buying my milk from a local dairy farm. While switching to full-fat dairy didn’t cause me to lose any weight, it also didn’t seem to have any negative impact. Then again, I only consume 1–2 cups of milk and yogurt a day, so we’re only talking a difference of 50–100 calories. (The current Dietary Guidelines suggest up to 3 servings of dairy per day).

But, for what it’s worth, I do find full-fat dairy products to be more satisfying in the moment as well as more satiating over the subsequent few hours. And when it comes to long-term weight management (not to mention sanity), any way that we can maximize our enjoyment of food — without compromising our goals, of course — is golden.

So, should you be drinking whole milk?

If you prefer the taste of low-fat or skim milk and you’re happy with your weight (or moving in the right direction), I wouldn’t change a thing. If it ain’t broke…

If, on the other hand, you’d be happier drinking whole milk instead of skim, why not give it a try? Portion size still matters, of course — especially with higher-calorie dairy foods like cheese and ice cream. But you may find that a smaller portion of full-fat dairy is even more satisfying than a larger helping of the fat-free alternative.

If you decide to experiment, MyFitnessPal can help you keep tabs on your overall calorie intake and progress.

About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LDN
Monica Reinagel, MS, LDN

Monica Reinagel, MS, LDN, is a licensed nutritionist and creator of the top-rated Nutrition Diva Podcast. Find more nutrition and diet tips and recipes at NutritionOverEasy.com, or connect on Facebook or Twitter.


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