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  • Writer's pictureAnita Hollerer-Squire

Milk - low fat, whole milk or none at all?

Buying milk can be pretty confusing. Is low-fat better for us than full-fat? Choose pasteurized or raw milk? Should we be consuming milk and dairy at all? Let's investigate.

Low-fat vs whole milk

Whole milk - 3.5 % fat

Low-fat milk - 1 % or 2 % fat

Skim milk - 0 - 0.5 % fat

Milk is good for us, right? A handbook provided by the US Department of Agriculture calls for kids to increase their dairy consumption - especially low-fat dairy - for stronger bones and healthier hearts. For years now we've been told to drink low-fat milk, as whole milk is high in saturated fats - and that's not good for diabetes and weight control. During my Clinical Weight Loss Practitioner studies I was taught that clients wanting to lose weight should stick to low-fat dairy. Even to this day low-fat dairy is still advised in the dietary guidelines of most countries. According to the new healthy eating guidelines from the New Zealand Heart Foundation we should choose reduced fat milk for a healthy heart.

However, there has been a lot of talk about the advantages of full-fat milk & dairy over the last few years .

Recent studies reveal that full-fat dairy might in fact be beneficial for weight loss and heatlh.

A recent study on 18,438 women over an 18 year period found that women with a greater intake on high fat dairy products had a lower risk of becoming overweight or obese.

Another study published by the American Heart Association on 3,333 adults focusing on dairy fat and the associated risk of diabetes found that high fat dairy were associated with lower incident diabetes.

A review of 16 studies done on the relationship between high-fat dairy consumption and obesity, cardiovascular, and metabolic disease suggests that high-fat dairy consumption within typical dietary patterns is inversely associated with obesity risk.

Those studies show that in contrast to what we have been told for the last 50 years, consuming full-fat dairy might actually help with weight loss and diabetes.

How is low-fat milk made?

Skim milk is produced by taking out the fat from milk. By doing so, it loses it's fat-soluble vitamins A and D. To make up for this loss, manufacturers add synthetic vitamins.

Synthetic vitamins contain chemical compounds that were not meant for human consumption. They do not occur in nature but are made in labs.

Synthetic vitamin A (also known as retinyl palmitate) has been shown to accelerate cancer in lab animals.

Synthetic vitamin D (known as D2 or ergocalciferol) can cause a range of adverse effects such as nausea, constipation, severe lethargy, and change of mental state amongst others.

Pasteurized or raw milk?

Photo taken in Austria 2015

I got interested in raw milk after my last visit home to Austria. Both my mother and my sister now buy raw milk from a local farmer - just as they did in the old days. That got me thinking - is raw milk better for me and what is the difference?

In an ideal world cows would be free to wander around green hills with plenty of space and lots of grass to feed on and produce healthy milk - this is what happens in Austria and where my mum and sister get their milk from.

But unfortunately that's not the case for many other countries. The sad reality is that thousands of cows are packed together in factory farms at less than ideal conditions. They live in overcrowded conditions, stand in their own excrement and are fed genetically modified grains. As a result they need to be given antibiotics to stop diseases from spreading. They are also given steroids to boost their milk production.

To be able to drink this milk, it is pasteurized for safe consumption. The pasteurization process involves heating the milk to a high temperature to destroy most of the bacteria and viruses. Unfortunately, it also kills most of the healthy enzymes and nutrients along with it.

Should we be consuming milk at all?

There are people who think that milk should be avoided all together - unless, of course, you are a baby calf.

Obviously, the dairy industry doesn't see it that way. They say it strengthens our bones and is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and lower blood pressure in adults.

According to dairy opponents like Dr. Hyman, there is no evidence that dairy is good for your bones or prevents osteoporosis — in fact, the animal protein it contains may help cause bone loss.

It is furthermore estimated that about 65 % of the population have some kind of dairy intolerance. The most common - lactose intolerance - is caused when people don’t produce enough of the enzyme lactase needed to break down the lactose, or sugar, in milk so that it can be more easily absorbed. The lactose stays in the digestive system where it ferments with the bacteria, producing gases and leading to flatulence, bloating or cramps.

Production of lactase is genetically determined - the chart below shows the countries with the highest to the lowest lactose intolerance (click here for the source)

Ethnicity / Geographic Region % With Lactose Intolerance

1. East Asian 90-100%

2. Indigenous (North America) 80-100%

3. Central Asian 80%

4. African American (North America) 75%

5. African (Africa) 70-90%

6. Indian (Southern India) 70%

7. French (Southern France) 65%

8. Ashkenazi Jew (North America) 60-80%

9. Balkans Region 55%

10. Latino/Hispanic (North America) 51%

11. Indian (Northern India) 30%

12. Anglo (North America) 21%

13. Italian (Italy) 20-70%

14. French (Northern France) 17%

15. Finnish (Finland) 17%

16. Austrian (Austria) 15-20%

17. German (Germany) 15%

18. British (U.K.) 5-15%

Environmental concerns

Another subject to take into consideration is the negative effect cows have on the environment. The emissions released by cows may be creating enough air and water pollution to negatively impact human health.

A 2006 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) report, "Live Stock's Long Shadow," concluded that the global livestock sector produces 37% of the anthropogenic (man-made) methane and 65% of the anthropogenic nitrous oxide released into the earth's atmosphere. Methane and nitrous oxide are both greenhouse gases.

Dairy alternatives

If you have eliminated dairy, there are plenty of ways to boost your calcium and Vitamin D levels. Foods like tofu, almonds, leafy greens, seafood and legumes are good sources of calcium. Vitamin D is present in eggs, salmon and other fatty fish and, most importantly, sunshine.

There are plenty of alternatives to milk - almond, soy, coconut, cashew, hemp and rice milk. Inform yourself on the various milk alternatives and go for the unsweetened varieties - as with everything else - the rest is made with added sugar.


If you don't have any allergies to dairy and choose to drink milk, raw milk from a good source seems to be a good option. Otherwise I would suggest to stick to organic whole milk. However, only you can decide whether to consume dairy products and if so, what type of milk is best for you and your health.


US Dept of Agriculture


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