We called it “blue milk” growing up: that pallid, anemic liquid that has very few recognizable characteristics (other than maybe calcium) when compared to its fuller fat whole milk counterpart. Skimmed, or skim, milk is what’s left after all the cream has been removed from the top layer of non-homogenized milk.
Milk, as defined by Merriam Webster, is an opaque white fluid rich in fat and protein. This definition may add weight to Florida’s law that requires skim milk be categorized as an “imitation milk product” unless the manufacturer adds vitamins before it reaches consumers. (A federal court ruled in favor of the state this week after a creamery filed a lawsuit disputing the law.)
The cream that is removed from milk to make skim milk contains the majority of milk’s hefty vitamin stash–mostly A, D, E, and K, which are all fat soluble. (Fat-soluble vitamins, by definition, need fat in order to be absorbed by the body.) Most dairies add vitamins A and D back into skimmed milk. But unless you plan to pair your skim milk with a buttered piece of toast, you reap no benefits.
Skim milk tastes nothing of milk, has little to no mouthfeel, and was pushed on my generation as the healthiest option in the dairy aisle. That’s all thanks to the low-fat diet crazes of the 1970’s and 80’s, when whole milk dairy products became the black sheep of the dairy case.
Whole milk, along with cream and half-and-half, was reserved for special occasion ice cream and the occasional splurge in a cup of coffee. Whole milk was never a staple in our refrigerator growing up. But now, new research reveals that full-fat dairy may actually have more benefits than its fat-free counterparts, certainly more so than were once believed.
A recent study published in Circulation (a journal from the American Heart Association) found that people who consumed full-fat dairy products were 46% less likely to develop diabetes than those who did not.
Another review published in the European Journal of Nutrition found that people who eat full-fat dairy are no more likely to develop cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes than people who stick to low-fat dairy. And when it comes to weight gain, full-fat dairy may actually be better for you, the same report concluded. Of the 25 studies included in his team’s review, Dr. Mario Kratz says 18 reported lower body weights, less weight gain, or a lower risk for obesity among full-fat dairy eaters. The other seven studies were inconclusive. “None of the research suggested low-fat dairy is better,” he says.
More and more, we are hearing that when people reduce the amount of fat in the diet, they tend to replace it with sugar or carbohydrates, both of which can have worse effects on insulin and diabetes risk.
In recent years, it seems consumers have begun their own shift away from the low- and no-fat dairy products. In fact, full-fat whole milk yogurts are picking up sales in the States. U.S. sales of Fage Total, Fage International SA’s whole-milk yogurt, are up by a double-digit percentage so far this year compared with the year before, the company says. “There’s a shift from people feeling that they couldn’t have any fat in their diet to an understanding that it’s OK to have some fat in moderation,” says Russell Evans, director of marketing for Fage USA. “And when they discover it, there’s such a taste difference.”
Whole milk is actually less processed than skim, 2%, and 1% milk varieties. As the Dairy Council of California defines it, whole milk is “the closest way it comes from the cow before processing.”
I can’t remember the last time we called for fat-free milk in one of our recipes–whole, 2%, and even 1% low-fat milk add so much more body, texture, and flavor to recipes than does the skimmed version. And we often don’t use enough to even make a difference in the overall fat and calories, when calculated per serving.
Whole milk, after all, is only about 3.5% fat. A full glass of the “indulgence” has 150 calories and about 4.5g sat fat. But when was the last time (since entering adulthood) that you actually sat down and finished a full glass of milk? I use my milk for cooking and coffee.
What you can do right now: Look at your plate as a whole. If all you plan to eat for breakfast is a bowl of yogurt with fruit, or shredded wheat and milk, then choose something with a little more fat–the 2% or even whole milk variety–to keep you full until lunch. That fat-free yogurt container (that most likely has artificial sweeteners–another issue entirely) won’t keep you full for long, making you more likely to reach for that sugar-loaded vending machine pastry at 10 a.m.
The fats found in dairy products are quality fats–they come packaged with calcium, essential nutrients, and vitamins. The higher fat options do, of course, have more calories, fat, and sat fat, but if you’re consuming a diet rich in whole grains, seafood, fruits, veggies, and lean protein, then choosing 2% over skim milk to use in moderation is a healthy decision. Not to mention tastier, too. If you have high cholesterol, are at risk for diabetes, and already eat a lot of foods and meats that are high in saturated fat, then lower fat milks may be a more balanced option for you.
But if you and your family are drinking skim milk and eating fat-free yogurt and cheese purely because you’re worried about gaining weight, well it may be time to update your shopping list.