Science: Whole milk likely healthier than skim milk

What seems like a no-brainer to most of us is now being refuted by those a bit brainier.

Most of us who drink milk have routinely skipped whole milk for the far less delicious reduced fat options in the belief that the extra fat and calories in whole milk must be less healthy for us. I mean, how could it not be? Aren’t fat and calories responsible for obesity and its consequences, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease?

Well, research now says that there is no scientific proof that reduced fat milk is healthier for you than whole milk. In fact, whole milk might actually be healthier for you than reduced fat options.

“In terms of obesity, we found no support for the notion that low-fat dairy is healthier,” says Dr. Mario Kratz, a nutrition scientist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, and first author of a review published in the European Journal of Nutrition of the existing research on dairy fat.

An article discussing the study’s findings states that of the 25 studies included in his team’s review, Kratz said 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 said.

But, again, how could a food with more calories and fat be better for you? The article states that some researchers argue that not all calories are equal—especially when it comes to weight gain. Kratz says the fatty acids that are stripped out of reduced-fat dairy may help you feel full sooner and stay full longer—meaning you’ll eat less now and in the coming hours.

Another article concerning whole milk versus skim milk cites a study published in the journal Circulation. For the study, Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian and his colleagues analyzed the blood of 3,333 adults enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study of Health Professionals Follow-up Study taken over about 15 years. They found that people who had higher levels of three different byproducts of full-fat dairy had, on average, a 46% lower risk of getting diabetes during the study period than those with lower levels.

“I think these findings together with those from other studies do call for a change in the policy of recommending only low-fat dairy products,” said Mozaffarian in the article. “There is no prospective human evidence that people who eat low-fat dairy do better than people who eat whole-fat dairy.”

So, just how much fat is in whole milk?

Many of us buy skim, 1% or 2% milk in the belief that we are saving ourselves from a significant amount of fat. Not so. According to the USDA’s standards, whole milk must contain at least 3.25% butterfat.

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