June is National Dairy Month and time to celebrate farm fresh, real dairy milk, a naturally nutrient rich beverage. When asking “what type of milk is best keep in mind that milk is an important source in the American diet of 9 essential nutrients of protein, calcium, vitamin D, riboflavin, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin B12, niacin, and phosphorus. These nutrients help build strong bones, convert food into energy, and milk has selenium, which works with vitamin A to help maintain a healthy immune system.
However, if you find yourself standing in the dairy aisle at the grocery store wondering “what type of milk is best – skim, 1%, 2%, or whole,” you are not alone. Due to recent conflicting advice and varying opinions on which type of milk is healthier for us, this has become a common dilemma leaving us without real clear answers. Some experts say “whole milk is best” while others say “only skim milk should be used.” What’s a milk drinker to do?
The findings of recent research
For a long time we’ve been told about the health dangers of drinking whole milk – it has too much fat in it that will lead to weight gain and possibly risk your cardiovascular health to boot.
But now that advice has been turned upside down and we’re being told just the opposite. Much of the inconsistent advice comes from recent studies indicating full-fat milk (whole) may have some nutritional advantages over skim milk. For instance researchers in a 2016 study in Circulation looked at specific blood markers signifying dairy fat and found adults with the highest blood levels of these markers had a 45-50% lower risk of diabetes as compared to those with the lowest levels. Though the fatty acids in the blood are biomarkers of dairy fat, the findings could suggest either the fatty acids themselves or other factors in dairy fat could reduce risk of diabetes.
Another 2016 study in the American Journal of Nutrition linked intake of full-fat dairy to less weight gain and decreased risk of becoming overweight/obese among middle-aged and elderly women. It should be noted that these reductions in weight gain and risk of becoming overweight/obese were modest. It is also important to note the women in the study self-reported weight and dairy consumption, which could affect the study results.
So Really What Type of Milk is Best?
When it comes to buying milk and milk products for your family, you want to be assured you’re purchasing the healthiest option out there. Nutritional considerations to keep in mind to recent findings in research studies, is that even though they touch on potential benefits of whole milk products, these studies also in no way indicate that lower-fat milk pose a health risk or that skim milk drinkers should switch their habits for added health benefits.
Here’s what to consider when deciding what type of milk is best for you:
All milk – including fat free, low-fat, and whole – has nine essential nutrients including high-quality protein and three nutrients most likely missing in American’s diet – vitamin D, calcium, and potassium.
Up to 85% of Americans fall short of the recommended three servings daily of milk or dairy products. This means a lot of people are missing out on important key nutrients found in dairy foods.
There is a misconception that skim milk has added sugar to make up for the lack of fat. This may be the case for other lowfat dairy foods such as yogurt where sugar is routinely added to it, but that is not the case for skim milk. The sugar in milk comes from the naturally occurring sugar found in milk called lactose. This is not a sugar added to milk. All white milk (skim, 1%, 2%, or whole) has the same amount of naturally occurring sugar in them in the form of lactose but with no additional sugar added. Chocolate milk also contains lactose but will have some sugar added to it.
Drinking milk and eating milk products – regardless of the fat level – is associated with lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
Emerging research does indicate dairy fat isn’t as harmful to heart health as once thought. The fats in whole milk are highly complex with more than 400 different fatty acids identified in milk fat. The saturated fat found in whole milk has no effect on blood cholesterol. Even though it may increase total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, it may also raise HDL (good) cholesterol thus having a neutral effect.
Bottom line, milk drinkers can feel confident in their choice of drinking milk no matter what the fat content may or may not be. If you prefer the taste of whole milk and many people do, go ahead and drink that. Likewise, if skim, 1% or 2% milk are your dairy beverages of choice, by all means choose them.
The daily recommendation for dairy foods is three servings for people 9 years of age and older. Milk is a highly nutritious food and when we make it a regular part of our diet that helps us all achieve better nutritional health. When asking what type of milk is best remember the saying “milk really does do a body good.”