Whole milk or low-fat?


Kurt Olsen

There is ongoing discussion and debate regarding the health benefits of dairy milk. However, it is essential to note that all dairy milk varieties offer unique health benefits. Each type provides different advantages, whether whole, reduced fat, low fat, or skim milk. So, what distinguishes them from one another?

Cow’s milk has been an everyday household staple for many years. While it still maintains its popularity, there has been a growing trend of people opting for plant-based milk alternatives more than ever. Dairy milk has received criticism lately, leading people to shy away from it due to concerns about potential bodily harm.

Although specific studies suggest that milk may have pro-inflammatory effects and contribute to conditions like heart disease, the evidence remains inconclusive. Conversely, other studies have shown that milk can help reduce the risk of diabetes, strengthen bones, and promote a healthy heart.

Whole milk

Whole milk is considered the traditional choice for American families and resembles milk straight from the cow. It contains 3.25 percent milk fat, making it the highest fat content among all milk options. Since fat contains nine calories per gram, higher fat content contributes to a higher calorie count in the milk. You can expect 150 calories and eight grams of fat in a one-cup serving of whole milk. Despite concerns about fat content, research consistently indicates that not all fats are the same and that fats play a crucial role in regulating hormones and supporting various bodily functions.

The higher fat content in whole milk can also enhance satiety, making you feel fuller for longer. Therefore, if you have no specific health concerns, whole milk can be a favorable choice. Additionally, whole milk is rich in essential nutrients like vitamins A, D, E, and K. These vitamins are fat-soluble, meaning they are better absorbed when consumed with fat, such as the fat in whole milk.

Reduced fat milk

Reduced-fat milk, with a milk fat content of 2%, does not imply that a cup of milk contains 2% fat. Instead, it means the total dairy fat accounts for 2% of its weight. Despite the lower fat content, reduced-fat milk retains the same nutritional profile as whole milk. It is a suitable option for individuals who need to limit their fat intake for medical reasons or personal preference. It provides a balanced compromise between the benefits of milk and reduced fat content.

Low-fat milk

Low-fat milk contains approximately 1% milk fat by weight. One cup of this milk provides around two grams of fat and 100 calories. If you aim to minimize your fat intake while still enjoying the benefits of milk, low-fat milk is an excellent choice.

Fat-free milk

Fat-free milk, often called skim milk, contains only 80 calories per serving. Some people mistakenly believe that skim milk is reduced to reduce fat content, but it retains its nutritional value. Opting for skim milk is ideal if you want to eliminate fat. However, remember that with fat, the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins may be more efficient. To compensate for this, it is advisable to consume some form of dietary fat alongside skim milk as part of your meal.

Bottom line

In conclusion, fat is not an adversary; it is a vital nutrient that our bodies require. However, like anything else, moderation is key. Unless there is a medical necessity, there is no single “best milk” for health if you already maintain a varied and nutritious diet rich in essential nutrients. It is important to note that the lower the fat content in milk, the lower the likelihood of efficiently absorbing certain nutrients, such as vitamin D, which relies on fat for proper metabolism.


Which is healthier low, fat or whole milk?

Reduced-fat and skim milk offers a lower calorie option than whole milk while still providing higher levels of essential vitamins (thanks to fortification). These milk varieties also contain less saturated fat, which research has shown to elevate “bad” cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease. Choosing reduced-fat or skim milk can be a beneficial dietary choice to reduce calorie intake and limit the consumption of saturated fats for better heart health.

Is low-fat milk the same as whole milk?

The distinction between low-fat and whole milk lies in the fat content present in each serving, which is also reflected in their respective calorie counts. For an 8-ounce serving, low-fat milk contains approximately 2.5 grams of fat and provides around 100 calories. In contrast, whole milk contains about 8 grams of fat and provides 150 calories in the same serving size.

Which type of milk is the healthiest?

Low-fat or non-fat dairy options, such as skim or 1% milk, offer the same essential protein, vitamins, and minerals found in whole milk but with significantly lower amounts of saturated fat. Opting for these types of milk can be a more heart-healthy choice than consuming full-fat milk. By choosing low-fat or non-fat dairy, you can still benefit from the valuable nutrients while reducing your saturated fat intake.

Why choose low-fat milk?

Here are some advantages of incorporating low-fat dairy foods into your diet:

Fewer calories for a healthier weight: Low-fat dairy options contain fewer calories than their full-fat counterparts. This can support your efforts to maintain a healthy weight or achieve weight loss goals.

Less saturated fat for a healthier heart: By choosing low-fat dairy foods, you reduce your intake of saturated fat, which has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Opting for low-fat options can contribute to a heart-healthy diet.

More calcium for strong bones, teeth, and healthy blood pressure: Dairy products are excellent sources of calcium, and low-fat varieties provide this essential mineral without the added saturated fat. Consuming low-fat dairy can help support bone and teeth health and contribute to maintaining healthy blood pressure levels.

Which is the best milk to drink?

Here are seven of the healthiest milk options to consider:

  1. Hemp milk: Made from ground and soaked hemp seeds, hemp milk does not contain the psychoactive component found in the Cannabis sativa plant. It is a good source of plant-based protein and healthy fats.
  2. Oat milk: Oat milk is made from whole oats and provides a creamy texture. It is often fortified with vitamins and minerals, including calcium and vitamin D.
  3. Almond milk: Almond milk is made from ground almonds and water. It is low in calories and can be suitable for those with lactose intolerance or nut allergies.
  4. Coconut milk: Coconut milk is derived from the flesh of coconuts and has a rich, tropical flavor. It contains healthy fats and can be a good source of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).
  5. Cow’s milk: Cow’s milk is a traditional and widely consumed option, providing essential nutrients like protein, calcium, and vitamin D. However, it may not be suitable for individuals with lactose intolerance or allergies.
  6. A2 milk: A2 milk comes from cows that produce milk containing only the A2 type of beta-casein protein. Some people find it easier to digest compared to regular cow’s milk.
  7. Soy milk: Soy milk is made from soybeans and is a popular plant-based alternative to cow’s milk. It is a good source of protein and contains essential amino acids.



Contact Us

For more information or to make comments and suggestions, please contact:
Kurt Olsen
Dairy Development Coordinator, Missouri Department of Agriculture
Phone: (573) 291-5704
E-mail: [email protected]