Why You Should Think Twice Before You Drink Skim Milk

Skim milk is often marketed as the healthier alternative to whole milk for those trying to cut calories. It usually contains about half the calories of full fat milk while still checking off a lot of the same nutrients. But a growing body of research is beginning to suggest that whole fat milk's bad reputation may not be justified.

Milk and the diabetes link.

A study published this week in the journal Circulation found that consuming whole milk helped cut diabetes risk in half.

In a sample of 3,333 people, researchers looked at three byproducts that come from full fat dairy consumption. Participants with the highest levels of those markers had a significantly lower incident diabetes on average, compared with those who chose lower fat dairy products.

A separate study also suggests that focusing on a food's fat content to lose weight may not be the way to go. Looking at correlations between whole fat milk and weight gain, a report in the American Journal of Nutrition found surprising results: Of the 18,438 women that researchers followed, those who ate the most high-fat dairy products had a 8 percent lower risk of becoming obese than those who went the low-fat route.

What about low fat milk?

While whole fat milk comes from a cow before processing, reduced fat milk (2 percent fat), and low fat milk (1 percent fat) all have the extra fat that comes from the presence of cream removed. (Fat free or skim milk simply removes all of the extra fat.)

Common wisdom has held that removing this extra fat is good, because it removes calories that can contribute to weight gain and ditches saturated fat, which has long been considered unhealthy. But in addition to new research that suggests that saturated fat may be good for you under certain circumstances, this added processing also removes vitamins D, A, E, and K — meaning that lower fat milk actually has less natural nutrients. Companies sometimes supplement this altered milk by adding vitamins back in as well as adding powdered milk solids to make the consistency of the lower fat milk more palatable.

Does this mean you should start drinking whole fat milk?

The skim milk only craze was due in part to concerns about cholesterol and weight gain, NPR reports. So will medical professionals begin regularly suggesting that most consumers begin purchasing whole milk again? With the benefits of full fat dairy becoming better known, it may ultimately be the right choice depending on your family and personal medical history. For now, more research is still needed.