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Whole Milk or Skim, Which is Better? : Milk 101 Series Part 3/4

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I remember the first day I bought whole milk.

Raised on a combination of 2% and skim, I had never tried the whole stuff. And during the seemingly obligatory "almond-milk only" phase of my personal nutrition education {I will never use the phrase 'nutrition journey' here...*shudder*}, I ditched dairy altogether, favoring instead the myriad of plant-based "milks" out of pure curiosity. But, as more studies emerged on its benefits {more on those later}, I became curious about whole milk. One day I biked to the store and picked up a local brand of whole milk after {much} internal deliberation. There was still a fat-phobic part of my brain that swore that as soon as the milk touched my lips I would gain 20 pounds. {Woof, those fat-based fears ran deep back then.} 

So I tried it and... I liked it. {And, in case you were wondering, I did not gain those feared 20 pounds.} Now, this would be the point in another blog where the author would go on about how drinking that first sip of whole milk changed their life. But that is not this blog. Whole milk did not change my life, but it did make me wonder why whole milk has a negative stigma and whether that stigma is, in fact, warranted. Let's chat about that, shall we?

Nutrition Breakdown: Whole Milk vs. Skim Milk

In the American supermarket, when one buys milk one is confronted with a selection ranging from skim to 1%, 2%, and whole milk {or vitamin D milk}. The difference between them, as I am sure you can guess, is the percentage of milk-fat remaining in the final product. With a few exceptions discussed below, other than fat content {which influences total calorie content}, all cow's milk is, by and large, the same. {For a more thorough discussion on what's so great about cow's milk click here}.

And yet, recent studies have revealed some possibly beneficial properties specific to whole milk. It follows then that there is something special about milk-fat that we cannot quite put our finger on...

What the research says about whole milk...

Studies have found that drinking whole milk is associated with:

Additionally, whole milk is higher in omega-3 fatty acids {especially in organic whole milk, read about that again here}, the anti-inflammatory fat that reduces the risk for heart disease. 

What's behind all those benefits?

This is where reading the research can lead you down a rabbit-hole {which I encourage all of you to do if you have the time!} because the truth is, we still do not know for sure. But, for the sake of keeping this brief and to-the-point, here are some of the big hypotheses out there. {You will find that I have linked out to all the studies I could find when researching this post - peruse at your leisure!}

Hypothesis #1: The Saturated Fats in Milk-Fat are Beneficial

I trust that we are all familiar with the song and dance about saturated fat and how it is awful for us and we need to cut it out completely?'s the thing: within the category of saturated fats, there are a bunch of different kinds of saturated fats. And saying that all of these kinds of saturated fats behave the same is like saying that Cheerios and generic toasty-O's taste the same. Sure, they share a similar shape and concept, but they taste {or behave, in saturated fats case} totally different. Research is revealing that the saturated fats in milk-fat have something about them that may lower the risk for cardiovascular disease.

Hypothesis #2: Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), a Type of Trans-fat Found in Milk-fat, is Beneficial

If reading that made you want to throw your hands up in confusion and despair, you are definitely not alone. So yeah... turns out trans-fats, known as the Demogorgon of nutrition for years, can occur both naturally and be produced via industrial means. And, you guessed it, it naturally occurs in milk-fat as conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). Like the saturated fats found in milk-fat, CLAs have also been found to reduce the risk for heart disease and may even help to depress cancer growth

The Takeaway: Whole Milk or Skim?

I would say the answer to this question depends on your goals. The only real benefit of skim milk over whole is its calorie count - so if counting calories means a lot to you right now, maybe stick with the skim. 

BUT we are finding out that there is more to weight loss than calorie counts alone and consuming whole foods closest to their natural state could be the best way to better our health. Give whole milk a try next time you are purchasing milk. If you are a little wary, purchase only a pint or a quart to test it out. What do you do with it? Personally, I use whole milk for making the creamiest scrambled eggs and as a creamer for my morning coffee. But it's up to you!

If you missed a post in this Milk 101 Series, check them out below! Also stay tuned for next week's final addition to the series: A discussion on choosing the best plant-based milk!