Food Tips

In Defense of Whole Milk

whole milk

You may want to rethink your skinny latte obsession.

On the surface, deciding between whole milk or skim seems like a no-brainer: Full-fat = bad, low-fat = good. At least, that’s what health experts have been preaching to us for eons. But while the idea of scoring calcium and protein without the extra calories is super-alluring, new research suggests whole milk has been getting a bad rap—and may not be as bad for us as we’ve been led to believe.

With each eight-ounce serving containing 150 calories and eight grams of fat—five grams of which are saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease—it’s no wonder whole milk has been blacklisted for so long, says Jessica Cording, R.D., a dietician at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. Even so, you may be better off skimping on skim and indulging in full-fat instead.

“Milk, from whole to skim, all contain eight grams of protein and have the same vitamins, such as calcium, vitamins A, B12, and D, niacin, riboflavin, and potassium,” says Deborah Malkoff-Cohen, R.D. So why not ditch the fat? “Most vitamins in milk are fat-soluble, which means they need fat to be absorbed and utilized by the body,” she explains. “In skim milk, since all the fat is removed, there’s no vehicle for all of those vitamins to be used.” Womp, womp.

Another bonus to drinking whole milk: It’s the least processed of the bunch. As the fat is removed, there’s a good chance that other potentially handy vitamins and minerals are eliminated along with it, says Malkoff-Cohen. “In some states, once the fat is removed, the skim milk needs to be ‘doctored’ before it hits supermarket shelves,” she says. “The addition of non-fat milk solids helps to thicken the consistency, whiten the color, and help with the texture.”

It gets ickier: The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t require dairy manufacturers to include “non-fat milk solids” on the ingredients list, since technically it’s still milk. This may seem like no biggie, but the issue is in how non-fat milk solids are made. “Liquid milk is put through a process of evaporation and high heat drying, which dehydrates the milk,” says Malkoff-Cohen. “Exposure to this high heat and oxygen is what causes the cholesterol in milk to become oxidized—and this oxidized cholesterol contributes to plaque build-up in your arteries.”

But if you’re worried that drinking whole milk means putting yourself at a higher risk for health issues like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, don’t fret: A 2013 review published in the European Journal of Nutrition put the kibosh on that theory. The review also found that if you want to shed pounds, full-fat dairy may be better for you. Similarly, another study published in the same journal later that year concluded that not only did high-fat dairy consumption not contribute to obesity and heart disease risk, but that in most cases it was associated with a lower risk of obesity. (No, but seriously.)

It sounds strange, but one reason for this could be that whole milk is more satisfying and leaves you feeling full longer, says Ashvini Mashru, R.D., author of Small Steps to Slim. Translation: In the long run, making the switch to whole milk can lead to hoovering less calories overall. Milk fat may also alter our metabolism in such a way so that it helps our bodies burn fat rather than store it, she adds.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should gorge on full-fat milk: A little goes a long way. “It also depends on what other sources of fat and saturated fat you’re consuming in the context of your day,” says Cording. The American Heart Association recommends no more than five to six percent of your daily calorie intake be from saturated fat (which comes out to about 13 grams for someone on a 2,000-calorie diet)—so when you decide to indulge in whole milk, simply adjust your saturated fat intake in other areas accordingly, she says.

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