When was the last time you poured yourself a tall glass of ice-cold whole milk? If you're like most of us, it's probably been since you were a kid. Nowadays it's all about skim milk, even for kids. Cartons of whole milk in school cafeterias have been swapped out for skim. Good luck finding full-fat yogurt. Everywhere you look, dairy products have gone skinny. And you know what? It's a double tragedy. Not only is skim less delicious than whole milk, it's not even better for you. In fact, switching from whole to skim can be an unhealthy choice.
I've known this for a long time -- I just mentioned it in a post on foods we thought are unhealthy but are actually good for us. But it turns out I didn't even know the half of it. Study after study, it is slowly dawning on doctors and nutritionists that skim milk may not be the best choice for us after all.
1. You absorb less of the nutrients without the fat. The nutrients in milk, vitamins D, E, and A, are fat-soluble, which means your body absorbs them better when they're delivered via fat. What's more, the vitamin K found naturally in butterfat gets left behind altogether.
2. Skim and low-fat milk contain powdered milk, which is made with oxidized cholesterol, a carcinogen. Oxidized cholesterol can contribute to the buildup of plaque in your arteries. On the other hand, untreated cholesterol in whole milk is an antioxidant.
3. Milk producers have started adding sugary flavoring to skim and low-fat milk to encourage kids to drink more of it. This means more empty calories in milk that releases fewer nutrients into your body. So that doesn't make a whole lotta sense.
4. Skim can leave you feeling unsatisfied, which leads many people to fill up on less-healthy "non-fat" foods. This is because saturated fats like those found in whole milk trigger the release of the hormone cholecystokinin, which makes you feel full.
5. Skim milk has been linked with "transient" weight loss in studies. This means you may lose some weight from cutting out whole milk at first, but then you're likely to gain back that weight.
6. Fats slow the release of sugar into your bloodstream, reducing the amount that can be stored as fat. This is an argument for letting some "healthy" fats into your daily diet overall, and they don't have to come from milk. They can come from olive oil and nuts, for example.
So as counter-intuitive as it sounds, it sounds like skim milk is only going to exacerbate the so-called obesity epidemic. But you know what? I think we need to stop obsessing over obesity and slimming waistlines. If we would shift that focus from NO/LESS to YES/MORE -- as in more nutrients -- I think we'd be a lot healthier. And that should be the goal anyway, getting healthier, not necessarily getting skinnier.
If there's anything we should care about when it comes to milk, besides its fat content, it's making sure it comes from cows not treated with hormones like rbST. And if you can get milk from cows with a diet rich in grass and hay as opposed to corn, you're going to get even more benefits from it.
Do you drink whole milk or skim/low-fat milk -- or none at all? Why?
Image via Jeanne Sager