Skim Milk

Skim Milk

You prob­a­bly spend all of one sec­ond decid­ing what kind of milk to put in your cof­fee. What’s to debate? If you want to keep the pounds off and avoid heart dis­ease, choose skim. This is gospel, after all: It’s rec­om­mended by the USDA and has so per­me­ated our think­ing that you can’t even find reduced-fat (2%) milk at places like Subway—and for­get about whole.

But is it true? Let’s start with the ques­tion of what’s fat­ten­ing. Whole milk con­tains more calo­ries and, obvi­ously, more fat. A cup has 146 calo­ries and almost 8 grams of fat, reduced-fat (2%) has 122 calo­ries and almost 5 grams of fat, low-fat (1%) has 103 calo­ries and 2.5 grams of fat, and non­fat (skim) has 83 calo­ries and vir­tu­ally no fat.

But when it comes to los­ing weight, restrict­ing calo­ries has a poor track record. Evi­dence gleaned from numer­ous sci­en­tific stud­ies says that if you starve your­self for lunch, you typ­i­cally com­pen­sate at din­ner. And accord­ing to a 2007 report in the Archives of Inter­nal Med­i­cine, telling over­weight and obese patients to cut calo­ries led to only “tran­sient” weight loss—it didn’t stay off. The same goes for cut­ting sat­u­rated fat. In 2003, the Cochrane Col­lab­o­ra­tion, a respected source for unbi­ased reviews of research, com­pared low-fat diets with low-calorie diets and found that “fat-restricted diets are no bet­ter than calorie-restricted diets in achiev­ing long-term weight loss.” As Walt Wil­let of the Har­vard School of Pub­lic Health wrote in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Med­i­cine, “Diets high in fat do not appear to be the pri­mary cause of the high preva­lence of excess body fat in our soci­ety, and reduc­tions in fat will not be a solution.”

It’s becom­ing widely accepted that fats actu­ally curb your appetite, by trig­ger­ing the release of the hor­mone chole­cys­tokinin, which causes full­ness. Fats also slow the release of sugar into your blood­stream, reduc­ing the amount that can be stored as fat. In other words, the more fat in your milk, the less fat around your waist. Not only will low-fat milk fail to trim your gut, it might even make you fat­ter than if you were to drink whole, accord­ing to one large study. In 2005, researchers from the Har­vard School of Pub­lic Health and other insti­tu­tions stud­ied the weight and milk con­sump­tion of 12,829 kids ages 9 to 14 from across the coun­try. “Con­trary to our hypoth­e­sis,” they reported, “skim and 1% milk were asso­ci­ated with weight gain, but dairy fat was not.”

But surely low-fat milk is bet­ter for your heart? We are often told to watch our con­sump­tion of dairy because it raises our bad cho­les­terol, the kind known as LDL. But LDL comes in at least four vari­eties, and only the small­est and dens­est of them are linked with heart dis­ease. Dairy fat, it turns out, affects only the large, fluffy kind of LDL—the benign kind.

And here’s a final thought: How would you feel if you opened a car­ton and poured a chalky, bluish-white liq­uid into your cof­fee? That’s the color many non­fat milks are before pow­dered milk is added to whiten them—a process that brings its own prob­lems. Any way you look at it, there’s been a lot of white­wash­ing of skim milk’s image.


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To turn skim milk white, “some com­pa­nies for­tify their prod­uct with pow­dered skim,” says Bob Roberts, a dairy sci­en­tist at Penn State. Pow­dered skim (which is also added to organic low-fat milks) is pro­duced by spray­ing the liq­uid under heat and high pres­sure, a process that oxi­dizes the cho­les­terol. In ani­mal stud­ies, oxi­dized cho­les­terol trig­gers a host of bio­log­i­cal changes, lead­ing to plaque for­ma­tion in the arter­ies and heart dis­ease, Span­ish researchers reported in 1996. “OCs are muta­genic and car­cino­genic,” they wrote. In 1998, Aus­tralian researchers stud­ied rab­bits fed OC and found that the ani­mals “had a 64% increase in total aor­tic cho­les­terol” despite hav­ing less cho­les­terol in their blood than rab­bits fed nat­ural sources of the sub­stance. (A 2008 Chi­nese study with ham­sters con­firmed these find­ings.) Roberts says the amount of OC cre­ated by adding pow­dered skim is “not very much,” but until the effects on humans are known, it’s impos­si­ble to say what’s a safe level.

Is Skim Milk Mak­ing You Fat?

Now here is an oppos­ing opin­ion:  So what’s the truth??

Dis­cov­ery Health “Skim Milk: Nat­ural Weight-Loss Foods”.

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