I’m a fan of whole foods. The more processed a food is the more the burden of proof is on it to establish itself as a viable and/or healthy substance. When looking at milk the same basic premise should apply. Whole milk is the standard and things like reduced fat, low fat and non fat milk are newer versions that, in my mind, are more processed and lesser versions of the whole food. Like most things in food and nutrition, my belief is that the more we manipulate a food the more likely we are to 1) screw it up, 2) create unintended consequences or 3) both. Nature has a beautiful harmony and efforts to interfere with that always make me nervous.
I started writing an extensive story on milk and it’s history and realized it was straying from my simplistic idea for this post. My family drinks whole milk, organic when possible and raw every once in a while. I believe in nature and trust in mother nature’s pantry. Maybe I’ll write up something extensive on milk but for now let’s get down to the basics of why I think whole milk is superior to its low fat and non fat versions…
Rethinking Milk’s Less Fatty Offspring
Just for reference:
*The word “milk” typically refers to whole milk, which separates from the cream after 24 hours or so. Milk straight from the cow, goat, yak or any other mammal is actually fattier than whole milk, as it is consumed before it’s allowed to separate. Whole milk is actually low fat compared to its straight from the mammal natural state.
*Whole milk is 3% fat, reduced fat milk is 2% fat, low fat is 1% and non-fat/skim milk is 0% fat. 1% of milk fat equals about 2.5 grams of fat per 8 fluid ounces.
The Milk Breakdown
– Whole milk is an old food. Up to 10,000 years old for some regions and heritages and 2000+ for most. Non fat and low fat milk are new, ~50 years old in most areas and completely unknown in most parts of the world. For some perspective, people have been consuming trans fats longer than fat reduced milk and high fructose corn syrup, soybean oil and aspartame about as long.
– Milk is supposed to have fat in it. Removing it is akin to taking the fat out of avocados. Don’t even get me started on fat free half and half…
-Whole milk is balanced in terms of fat, protein and carbohydrate. Low fat milk is less balanced and non fat even more unbalanced.
-Whole milk supports the fat soluble vitamins and can deliver them. Non fat has no fat to carry those vitamins.
-Whole milk contains saturated fat, which is a crucial fat for brain and hormonal development, among other functions. Low fat has less, non fat has none. The fear over saturated fat should be over by now as research has figured out that we mistakenly blamed it for a number of health and obesity issues.
-Whole milk is the most filling and can be used as a meal, non fat is more a drink than food.
-Last but not least, whole milk or 2%, is tastier to most people.
These are the reasons I prefer whole milk. Drinking non fat in place of whole milk may save a few calories but in most cases that doesn’t make much difference and might do more harm than good. When you don’t believe that fat causes obesity or heart disease you get the freedom of choosing milk by its nutrient value and taste. For me, that equates to whole milk (occasionally 2%) but not 1% and certainly not fat free.
Thanks for reading, have a great day!
P.S. There is some correlational evidence linking not fat and low fat dairy with obesity, infertility and a number of other health problems but until it is studied more deeply it’s simply an interesting notation and area to look into further.
A few end notes…
What’s The Deal With Dairy? – last year’s post on dairy
Why Did We Ditch Whole Milk?
Milk fat manipulation started growing in the 1950’s and 1960’s but didn’t take off until the 1980’s when the government started encouraging people to lower their fat, animal fat and saturated fat in particular. Correlation does not prove causation but it is interesting to note that obesity began to climb aggressively not too long after low fat food products (like skim milk) started to become popular. If you’ve read my thoughts on obesity you’ll note that I think it’s multi factorial and individual but I think the demonization of fat has a lot to do with it.
There exists balance and synergy in the natural world that I think we should trust. Skepticism is healthy and should be applied to everything, particularly a food like milk, but the naturally occurring version of milk is whole milk and includes fat and fat soluble vitamins that exist in that food for a reason. How do we know that everything about milk doesn’t rely upon the presence of the fat? What if it’s the catalyst and supervisor for everything else (protein,calcium,etc.) that we think is nutritious in milk? We know that vitamins A and D can only be carried and absorbed with fat but could the presence of fat also control/support the body’s ability to digest and utilize the milk sugar and protein? What if “unbalanced” non fat milk is in essence unusable by the body because it’s incomplete? These and many other questions come to mind when starting to think about artificially altering milk.