Friday, July 12, 2013

Skip the Skim & Drink Whole

There is little research to support the fact  that skim milk is healthier than whole.
There is little research to support the fact
that skim milk is healthier than whole.
Image: Shutterstock
When I was growing up, my mother’s fridge always had 2% reduced fat milk in it. My dad’s fridge had skim. School lunch came with 1%, 2%, or skim. I didn’t much care for milk when I was a kid, but as I got older I realized that milk actually wasn’t all that bad—if I had whole milk. I liked the creamier feel, the non-watery taste, and the full feeling I got from it. But I knew that whole milk was “bad” for me and thought I shouldn’t drink too much of it, or I might gain weight from all the fat.

That’s been the belief pushed on us for many years by nutritionists with an absolute outlook on caloric and fat intake as compared to obesity. More calories and more saturated fat consumption equals obesity, right? In a black-and-white picture, yes, that fact is true—but nutrition has never been a black-and-white picture. If it were, we’d have it completely figured out by now.

The basic premise of recommending skim and reduced fat milks is that it will lead to reduced caloric and fat intake, therefore reducing the risk for obesity. Unfortunately for that simplistic viewpoint, there isn’t much scientific evidence to support it. Just because a food is “low-fat” doesn’t mean it will lead to lower caloric intake.

Image: Shutterstock
In fact, astudy published in March in the Archives of Disease in Childhood showed that kids who drank lower fat milks were actually more likely to be obese later in life than kids who drank whole milk. How is that possible? Foods with lower fat content may not be as filling, and therefore consumers eat more to compensate. Drinking whole milk, in comparison, is more filling and can successfully satisfy hunger for much longer.

While overconsumption of whole milk could lead to problems like high cholesterol, skim and reduced fat milks can also open the door to serious health problems. Researchers say that because low fat milk is less filling, it may lead consumers to seek out high-glycemic-index foods like bagels, pasta, white rice, and instant oatmeal to tame hunger—and that can, in turn, increase levels of triglycerides. Doing so may put consumers at a higher risk for heart disease, high cholesterol, and hypertension.

Flavored milk may be lower in fat, but it's way higher in sugar content.
Flavored milk may be lower in fat, but
it's way higher in sugar content.
Image: Shutterstock
I certainly wasn’t the only kid who grew up loathing milk. At school, my teacher actually called my mother in for a conference when I had refused to drink milk at lunchtime and the nurse became concerned. They told me all about the nutritional value of milk and how it was important that I drink it if I wanted to grow up with strong bones. They tried to lure me in with flavored milk, but I didn’t like it even with the added sugar, and I wouldn’t budge on my hatred for milk.

I can’t to this day remember whether I ever drank my milk or not. I do know that, now that I’m older, I find it quite ironic that my school offered flavored milk but not whole. In their eyes, and many others’ eyes, flavored milk was a way to lure kids into drinking milk. It had reduced fat—so it’s better, right? Unfortunately, it also has several more grams of sugar per cup. While whole milk contains 13 grams of sugar per cup, reduced fat chocolate milk contains about 24 grams. That, as you all know, is something I find far more dangerous than a few grams of fat.

I’m certainly no scientist, nor am I a nutritionist; but the fact that there is very little scientific basis to back up the claim that low fat milks are “better” for kids and adults than whole milk seems worthy of scrutiny. As much as I would love for nutrition and obesity to be black-and-white issues, they are not. That makes it incredibly important to put our absolute convictions aside and really pay close attention to what science and research actually tell us is true.