The Whole Story on Skim Milk

The rich, delicious drink was best all along

When a friend called me recently to see if I needed anything from the store, I said,  “Sure, pick me up a gallon of whole milk please. Thanks.”

Her gasp from the other end of the phone was audible. After a short pause, she said, “You shouldn’t drink that. It’s not good for you.”

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It’s not the first time I’ve had to defend my preference for drinking whole milk to health-conscious eaters, and apparently I’m not alone among milk-drinking Americans.

The sale of whole milk in the U.S. has gone down steadily over the past 40 years, but has leveled off at about the same as the lower-fat options 1 percent and skim milk. The sale of 2 percent milk has only overtaken whole milk in the past 10 years and is currently about 20 percent higher.

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Since the mid-1970s, the federal government has steered the national consciousness toward healthier eating, specifically with guidelines recommending foods lower in saturated fats. The perception has been that fats in foods like dairy and red meat cause higher instances of heart disease, the leading cause of death among Americans.

“The problem with skim milk is that when you remove the fat, you’ve got to fill up that lost volume with something — and it usually isn’t good,” Dr. William Grossman said.

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Now recent studies show that may not be the case. Is the advice of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration scientifically sound?

In the case of dairy products, major studies during the past three years conducted independent of the food industry indicate that people who consume more milk fat actually have a lower rate of heart disease. Results show there are benefits to the immune system that low-fat consumers may have been missing out on, and the process of reducing saturated fats may have unhealthy consequences.

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“The problem with skim milk is that when you remove the fat, you’ve got to fill up that lost volume with something — and it usually isn’t good,” Dr. William Grossman, cardiologist and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told LifeZette.

“For the sake of argument, say that half the volume was from fat and you remove the fat. Now you’re stuck with half a glass of milk. But I don’t want to drink half a glass. I want a full glass. So you fill it up with more skim milk,” Grossman said. “But now you’ve got twice the sugar — you’ve concentrated all that lactose, and that’s one of the issues. Yes, you’ve got less calories, but the sugar is up. Milk fat is not that bad for you, and for children it’s essential.”

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As the federal government prepares to release its five-year update on dietary guidelines this year, the question of saturated fats remains unanswered.

“One constant in health advice – eat more fruit, more vegetables,” Grossman said. “Follow the Mediterranean diet of fruit, vegetables, fish, nuts, beans, olive oil. Limit alcohol, and get out there and move your bones.”

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