The Dairy industry has sold the world a bunch of white lies. Most people should not be drinking processed milk of any kind, but the demonization of saturated fat in the 1950s urged consumers to choose low-fat or no-fat dairy foods over high-fat foods. Guess what? People got fatter. Most serious scientists now agree that there is no link between increased cardiovascular disease risk and higher consumption of saturated fats. So why emphasize low-fat dairy products especially when they've been proven to make us bigger, not smaller.
People who eat more dairy fat or more high-fat dairy foods tended to be leaner and/or to gain less weight over time than people who eat less dairy fat. In studies that directly compared high-fat dairy to low-fat dairy, high-fat dairy was associated with better weight outcomes. None of the studies find links between high-fat dairy and higher weight, nor between low-fat dairy and reduced risk for obesity.
By reducing the fat, skim milk is certainly lower in calories, but authors of one study in JAMA Pediatrics - David Ludwig, of Boston's Children Hospital, and Dr. Walter Willett, of the Harvard School of Public Health - believe lower calorie beverages do not necessarily mean lower calorie intake.
Consumers are being milked and skimmed in more ways than one. The promise of weight loss and healthier hearts by drinking skim/low-fat products is false and actually seems to cause weight gain. Then the milk conglomerates, many call them the milk monopoly, take the good fats they took away from you and sell it back to you at higher profit margins in other products.
Mario Kratz, PhD, a nutrition scientist and associate member at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle analyze 11 observational studies that evaluated the association between dairy fat and the development of risk factors for diabetes, such as elevated blood sugar and insulin levels. Of these 11 studies, six showed that higher dairy fat consumption was associated with markers of better metabolic health than low fat. Only a single study showed an association between higher dairy fat consumption and a marker of poorer metabolic health--and it was just one marker, the glycated hemoglobin value (an indicator of blood glucose concentration over time). As for the development of type 2 diabetes itself, of the eight studies that looked at this issue, three reported that high-fat dairy intake was associated with lower risk for diabetes...four found no association between full-fat dairy products and diabetes...and one had inconsistent evidence.
A study at Harvard in 2006 suggested that a high intake of skim milk can impair ovulation, while drinking whole fat milk can improve fertility. Those who are planning to get pregnant or are currently pregnant should stick to whole milk.
The preponderance of evidence does not support the idea that high-fat dairy promotes metabolic disease.
A previous study actually found that those who drank low fat milk had a higher chance of being overweight later on in life, according to Time Magazine.
Fats Curb Your Appetite, Low-Fat Makes You Hungry
Studies have showed time and time again that a reduced-fat diet, similarly to a reduced-calorie diet, does not result in long-term weight loss and health, but instead leads only to “transient” weight loss -- that would be weight that comes piling right back on after it’s temporarily shed. This is because healthy fats actually curb your appetite and trigger the production of hormones which tell the brain when you’re full. If you’re not eating fat, you stay constantly hungry, and wind up binging on unhealthy food. Fat-free milk essentially signals to your body that something is missing, which leads to overeating and weight gain.
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.”
A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that those who ate the most high-fat dairy products, like whole milk, butter, and cheddar cheese, had about a 60 percent lower risk of developing adult-onset diabetes over 14 years than those who opted for skim milk and fat-free yogurt.
"Somehow this low-fat milk has become so entrenched in the nutritional psyche, it persists despite the absence of evidence. To the contrary, the evidence that now exists suggests an adverse effect of reduced-fat milk," said Ludwig.
The quality of the dairy fat itself may differ. In the US, dairy farming is highly industrialized. Our cows have little access to pasture, are fed corn- and soy-based concentrates, and receive a growth hormone that's banned in the European Union. However, European dairy production is far less industrialized, and in many regions the cows eat mainly grass. "Grass-fed animals produce milk with higher amounts of many unique fatty acids that may have beneficial effects on health," Dr. Kratz said. "It’s important to note that, while we know that milk-fat composition is affected in a major way by what the dairy cows eat, we know very little about whether these differences between milk from grain-fed and pasture-fed cows affect the health of people who drink it."
All of the studies included in Dr. Kratz's review were observational, not interventional--and there's a huge difference between the two. Observational studies simply watch what has happened with different groups of people over time, so they cannot show a cause-and-effect relationship. The best they can do is lead to hypotheses that must then be tested in interventional studies. However, interventional studies in nutrition are notoriously hard to carry out. It would be nearly impossible to control the diets of large groups of people for a long enough time to definitively determine whether one group develops more heart disease or diabetes, for example, than the other group.
There is very little evidence to support the belief that low-fat or nonfat dairy foods are better for us than high-fat dairy foods. In fact, most of the evidence indicates that high-fat dairy foods are better. This is not an endorse of high-fat dairy foods (as I advocate elimination of all dairy), but if you're going to pick one, choose high-fat and organic if possible. According to a recent study from Washington State University that analyzed 384 samples of whole milk, organic milk had 62% more healthful omega-3 fatty acids than conventional milk. Yes, organic is more expensive...but what's the alternative?
6 FACTS ON SKIM MILK
1. It was designed to profit off of you, not make you healthy.
People haven’t always bought into the idea that fat is unhealthy. It all started with a flawed theory by a really bad scientist who said that saturated fat and cholesterol cause heart disease. Which is pretty weird, considering no one had heart attacks around the turn of the century when everyone was still eating pounds of butter and cream every week. Somehow, by the time World War II rolled around, we were all convinced that fat was the enemy, anyway. Butter was replaced with cheap margarine made from toxic industrial oils, and creamy, full-fat milk was dumped in favor of skim.
2. It’s got a mystery ingredient they’re not telling you about. Before processing, skim milk has a very unappetizing blueish color, a chalky taste, and watery texture that doesn’t resemble natural milk at all. So, to whiten, thicken, and make it taste a little more normal, powdered milk solids are often mixed into the milk. In the manufacturing process, liquid milk is forced through tiny holes at very high pressure, which causes the cholesterol in the milk to oxidize, and toxic nitrates to form. The proteins found in powdered milk are so denatured that they are unrecognizable by the body and contribute to inflammation. Shockingly, dairy manufacturers are not required by the FDA to label the powdered milk as a separate ingredient, because it’s still technically just “milk,” the single ingredient found on the list. So, there’s no way to be sure that it is or isn’t in your fat-free or low-fat dairy products.
3. It contains antibiotics, nasty bodily fluids, and GMOs.
The skim milk you’ll find in most grocery stores is a mass-produced product from animals in concentrated animal feeding operations, or factory farms, where the cows are kept in confinement and fed a diet that is completely inappropriate for their species. Because cows are designed to eat grass, when they are fed a diet consisting primarily of corn, as they are in factory farms, they get sick. And because they get sick, they’re often given antibiotics to keep them alive so they can continue to produce. But because they’re still fighting off infections, things like blood and pus from open sores frequently make their way into the finished product -- the milk we see on store shelves. The FDA allows up to 750 million pus cells per liter of milk, to be sold legally.
4. It provides almost no nutritional value. If you’re not getting milk from a farm that raises cows on green pastures instead of in concentrated animal-feeding factories, your milk won’t have very much of those essential fat-soluble vitamins. Cows get their vitamin E, A, and K from the nutrients they eat in grass, and vitamin D from cruising around in the sunlight all day. Also, because confinement dairy cows are bred for unnaturally-high levels of milk production, the vitamin content of the milk is severely diluted, as the cow only transfers a set amount of vitamins to her milk supply. As for the rest of the nutrition in skim milk from factory farms? Well, it does provide a bit of denatured (and therefore, potentially quite harmful) protein, thanks to high-heat pasteurization. But no beneficial enzymes and probiotic microflora -- those are all killed off in the pasteurization process -- which aid in digestion.
5. It won’t make or keep you skinny.
Farmers knew well before skim milk was marketed as a waistline-slimming health food what it really is good for -- fattening you up! Skim milk has traditionally been fed to pigs to help them bulk up for slaughter. They of course would save the good part, the cream, for human consumption. Today, our school children who have been guinea pigs of the misguided nutritional advice to drink fat-free milk instead of whole milk, certainly aren’t any thinner for it. Researchers at the Harvard medical school found that, contrary to their hypothesis, “skim and 1% milk were associated with weight gain, but dairy fat was not,” in a study in which thousands of children’s milk drinking habits were surveyed. Adults aren’t faring much better with swapping whole milk for skim.
6. It won’t help you avoid heart disease
Fat-free milk is supposed to be “heart healthy” because it lacks the saturated fat and cholesterol that whole milk contains. It really boggles my mind how prevalent the completely de-bunked theory still is that heart disease is caused by the intake of saturated fat. One guy makes up a totally bogus “scientific” study that points to countries with a high-fat diet having high rates of heart disease, while leaving out all the countries of people eating tons of fat and having almost zero heart disease. And somehow, seventy years later, we’re still singing his praises and demonizing saturated fat and cholesterol?
Do you think there are enough reasons by now to avoid conventional milk?
Marco Torres is a research specialist, writer and consumer advocate for healthy lifestyles. He holds degrees in Public Health and Environmental Science and is a professional speaker on topics such as disease prevention, environmental toxins and health policy.