Skim vs Whole Milk – Which is Better for You?

For decades, skim and semi-skim milk, as well as low-fat milk and dairy products had been considered a healthier option than whole milk and whole-fat dairy products. However, the latter might be better for your heart and health in general (1), despite the opposite opinion that was popular several decades ago.

Most people, including young moms, wonder whether it is healthier to drink skim milk or whole milk on a daily basis. People who are more prone to weight gain believe that they should use only skim milk, with a fat content of less than 1 percent, or even milk without any fat.

However, some people, despite that choice, still gain weight – unlike people who drink whole milk and choose dairy products with complete lactic acids. Nutrition research confirms that this is not an isolated case, but that this has become a kind of a rule!

Therefore, stay with us to learn whether skim or whole milk is better for you. First, we will learn a bit more about milk in general, as well as the difference between whole and skim milk.

The nature of milk and its importance

Milk is a fluid that is the product of mammalian gland secretion. It is used in the nutrition of young animals at an early age as well as in the nutrition of a human. Human milk differs from animal milk in lactose content, i.e. human milk is richer in lactose than animal milk. Lactose is the primary sugar in milk composition.

The highest percentage in milk composition is occupied by water (87%), with the remaining part being dry matter. The percentage of solid content in milk varies depending on the type of mammal from which the milk is obtained. Cow milk is most commonly used in the human diet. Goat’s milk is used in underdeveloped countries, especially in Africa. However, the importance and popularity of goat milk, especially in treating certain diseases, have increased over the last few years.

When it comes to its nature, milk is white in color. Depending on the amount of fat content in milk, different shades of other colors appear which can indicate the degree of fat in the milk. For example, if blue shades appear in milk, milk fat has been removed.

We classify milk into several categories, including full-fat, or whole, half-fat or semi-skim, and skim milk. In the case of the skim milk, all the fat is removed and the semi-skim milk has a certain percentage of fat subsequently returned to the milk.

In addition to animal milk, soy milk and coconut milk are increasingly used today. Some plants can produce quality, delicious, and healthy milk.

The worldwide use of milk will never cease, as it is widely used in human and animal nutrition, especially in the postpartum period. Babies are given all the nutrients they need through breast milk, especially in the first months of their lives.

Although some scientific research tried to prove that milk is unhealthy due to some of its ingredients, it is still used in large quantities today. In addition to nutrition, milk is used in cooking and in preparation for various meals and desserts.

What is whole milk?

Generally, foods that have more than 20 percent of fat are considered to be high in fat. This is different from the term “whole” if we talk about milk and other dairy products. Whole cow milk typically has between 3.25 and 5 percent milkfat (1), so if you like whole milk you are not at risk, especially considering that it is not something you drink in unreasonable amounts throughout the day. 

What is skim milk?

This type of milk has the least calories and also has the lowest percentage of fat in it. Namely, 100 grams of cow milk contains 33 calories (kcal), 4.7 carbohydrates, 3.4 proteins, and 0.2 fat. In general, we can say that milk that contains less than 0.5 % of milk fat is classified as skim milk. 

A brief history of milk

Until the mid-1940s, the term low-fat or skim milk did not exist. Whole milk was the only type people were consuming. The cream on top of milk was adorned by everyone. However, the tables have turned after the medical practitioners started warning people against using fat. Soon, drinking whole milk was linked to developing heart disease.

This is how the skim or low-fat craze began. In the following decades, namely starting from the mid-1970s, the sales of whole milk dropped by the amazing 60 percent! This opened the path to skim milk. People believed that skim milk brings them all the benefits without the dangerous fats and excessive calories. However, the tables have turned once again in the first decade of the third millennium. We now know the value of fat in milk.

Why should you consume milk?

There are some trends in different lifestyles and diets that recommend avoiding consumption of milk. However, there are many benefits to consuming milk in general. Here are only some of them.

  • Milk suppresses appetite

The first fact that you probably didn’t think about when planning your diet is that milk helps you cope with hunger. People tend to consume fewer calories when they drink milk before or after a meal because they experience a stronger feeling of satiety.

  • Milk strengthens your muscles and bones

As we age, our skin and body become more relaxed, even more than we would like. Skin can become healthier and look better if we have a firm body and muscles. Also, milk is very important because of protein. In addition, milk contains vitamins that are important for bone strength.

  •  It helps you have a healthy and beautiful hair

Vital nutrients from milk help keep your hair healthy, shiny, and soft. Proteins and lipids in milk work to strengthen your hair, while calcium stimulates hair growth and prevents hair loss. Milk also contains other nutrients such as vitamins B6, A, potassium, and biotin, altogether helping keep your hair soft and shiny.

  •  It is a magical cure for a hangover

If you have had a bit more alcohol than you should and now have a terrible hangover, drink some milk. Also, next time, drink milk before going out because it protects the stomach from alcohol. You can also drink it after going out at night to soothe your stomach as it neutralizes the acidity in alcohol.

Milk is full of important vitamins and minerals like:

  1. Phosphorus – Helps strengthen the bones and generate energy
  2. Vitamin D – Helps maintain the bone strength
  3. Vitamin B12 – maintains the health of red blood cells and nerve tissue
  4. Other vitamins – maintains the immune system; helps maintain normal vision and skin
  5. Riboflavin (B2) – converts food into energy
  6. Niacin – Maintains sugar and fatty acid levels

Lactose intolerance does not imply giving up on milk and milk products

If you experience symptoms such as flatulence, stomach cramps, pain, gas, and even diarrhea after consuming milk or milk products, you may be lactose intolerant. Symptoms most often occur within 30 minutes to two hours after consumption. Be sure to see your doctor make sure you are lactose intolerant. If you happen to have an intolerance to milk, that doesn’t mean you should give up dairy products. You can gradually introduce dairy products and monitor the symptoms, and you can replace the regular milk with lower lactose content. 

Why is fat in milk important?

The fat from whole milk preserves all the nutrients – calcium and lactic acids (1) – which, among other things, have a beneficial effect on metabolism. And let’s not forget, metabolism is very important in weight control. Good and balanced metabolism easily combats excess fat not only from milk but also from other foods that contain fats and it eliminates them from the body.

Calcium and lactic acids in skim milk do not have enough strength to speed up our metabolism, so the body builds up fat that comes from other foods.

Benefits of consuming whole milk

In addition to maintaining the desired weight, whole milk has other benefits too. It is abundant in calcium, lactic acid, and other elements that significantly contribute to the strength and health of the bones of menopausal women, and to the better permeability of blood cells (1).

Additionally, whole milk increases the level of “good” HDL cholesterol in the bloodstream (1). Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol do not differ significantly in people depending on the type of milk they consume on a daily basis. High cholesterol is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and vascular disease. It is especially dangerous because it is often not diagnosed or properly treated.

Good cholesterol has a positive effect by removing bad cholesterol from the arteries and sending it back to the liver, where it is broken down and removed from the body. Moreover, high-fat dairy products are associated with a lower risk of diabetes (1). As a result, whole milk is not worse than low-fat milk and it can be even healthier.

Another plus for whole milk is the fact that it contains more important nutrients than skim milk, such as fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, which are important because they stimulate the function of our immune system (1). Furthermore, they alleviate the damage caused by free radicals and preserve bone health.

Why should kids drink whole milk?

Decades of studies showed that those kids who drank whole milk had higher levels of vitamin D and were less hungry, which is why researchers believe they tend to eat less high-calorie snacks and therefore consume fewer calories overall.

For example, children who drink one glass of whole milk have comparably higher levels of Vitamin D to those who drink three glasses of low-fat milk.

As a result, children who drink skim milk do not have less body fat and do not have higher levels of vitamin D, so it is a double issue when it comes to skim or low-fat milk (2). 

Nutritionists and medical practitioners advise parents to give their children whole milk as they may not receive the calories or vitamins needed from skim or low-fat milk. It is also not recommended to give your kids skim milk or milk with 1 percent fat at least until they reach the age of five because such milk does not contain enough vitamin A and the calories needed for the development of younger children.

Low-fat products lead to weight gain

Skim milk and other low-fat dairy products actually make us more fat. Here’s how fat has become the biggest villain in the diet, and why consuming full fat or whole foods will make you fit and healthy. 

First of all, fat tastes great keeps us alive and gives us a feeling of satiety. Skim milk, low-fat yogurt or low-calorie cheese substitutes do not have the capacity to satisfy your appetite and energy needs. In short: if you do not consume enough fat, you will not feel full, and if you are constantly hungry, you will continue to eat and gain more weight.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Here’s why more and more people are becoming fat, though everyone wants to be fit and consume low-fat products. 

The first mistake is trying to eat less which actually leads us to eat “poorly”. Ever since scientists have evaluated the calorie values of food components, we know that carbohydrates and proteins provide about four calories per gram, while fats provide about nine calories per gram. As a result, fat became the biggest enemy because we would all want a lot of food and a few calories.

Every person who is constantly on a diet will count calories, but those who are successful will stick to consuming healthy fats and concentrating on controlling carbohydrates. This approach allows us to eat real foods – things that our bodies actually need.

All the nutrients we need can be found in the natural foods around us. For example, if you avoid eggs and consume fully processed breakfast cereals instead, or you replace your steak with a sandwich full of additives, those calories won’t benefit your health and figure. Not surprisingly, young children drinking whole milk were less likely to become obese at the age of four than their peers who were drinking skim milk.

We can conclude that the reason is that children who drink whole milk feel full for a longer period of time and eat less junk food and snacks. They get all the nutrients they need, so they don’t look for other foods to fill the nutritional gap.

Full fat or whole dairy products are an important source of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and milk is a great source of calcium and phosphorus, minerals that, together with vitamin D, maintain bone health.

If a vitamin is fat-soluble it means it must be consumed in or together with fat in order for these nutrients to be usable. This is why we naturally find fat-soluble vitamins in foods that contain fat. At the same time, think carefully about skim milk in terms of the above-said. We remove fat to create skim milk and thus remove the nutrient delivery mechanism from the milk we consume. As a result, we deprive ourselves of the nutrients we need so much. 

Nowadays, we usually get small amounts of Vitamin D, which is so essential to our health. This is a consequence of our lifestyle, for most of the world’s population. We tend to demonize fat, cholesterol, and the sun – the three most important things our body needs in order to have the Vitamin D.

At the same time, the removal of fat in dairy products is bad enough in itself. Sometimes, this is done by the producers themselves, which is how we get skim milk, and sometimes they do an even worse thing – they remove the fat and make up for the lost taste with sugar. Yogurts are the biggest victims of this practice: low-fat or skim yogurts are actually calorie bombs we must avoid.

Conclusion

Of all the food misconceptions that exist today, and that many people, unfortunately, believe in, the myth that fat makes you fat is the most damaging one our population, especially when it comes to weight gain. Today, we eat more carbohydrates and less fat, and the result is devastating – we are getting overweight and obese. Also, we become less healthy in general.

If we go back to real food – whole milk, meat, and two portions of vegetables a day as our ancestors had been eating for centuries, we might be slimmer and healthier. In conclusion, you should eat “real food”. That implies real dairy products with healthy fats.

To sum up, the winner between the skim milk and whole milk is – whole milk. You should also consume dairy products made from whole milk as they usually contain less sugar. Do not forget that sugar is more dangerous than fat from whole milk.

References

1. Engel S., Elhauge M., Tholstrup T. Effect of whole milk compared with skimmed milk on fasting blood lipids in healthy adults: a 3-week randomized crossover study. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2018 Feb;72(2):249-254. doi: 10.1038/s41430-017-0042-5. Epub 2017 Dec 11. Found online on: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29229955

2. Beck AL, Heyman M, Chao C, Wojcicki J. Full fat milk consumption protects against severe childhood obesity in Latinos. Prev Med Rep. 2017 Jul 23;8:1-5. doi: 10.1016/j.pmedr.2017.07.005. PMID: 28856083; PMCID: PMC5552381. Found online on: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5552381/

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