Is Full Fat Or Skim Milk Better? Two Nutritionists Weigh In

Pouring Milk
Pouring Milk

There's a lot of confusing information out there about whether the full fat or "healthy" version of certain foods are better for us. If you choose full fat, you get stung with extra calories while the "healthy" or "diet" versions are said to be riddled with chemicals, sugars or are over-processed.

It’s a conundrum our parents and grandparents’ generation were spared -- food to them was far more simple in those days.

In recent years, we’ve seen “mindful” or “intuitive” eating replace traditional calorie counting while hundreds of thousands of people continue to dabble in diets like the 5:2, Paleo and gluten-free.

The most recent Australian Health Survey (2011-2012) shows 63 percent of the adult population are overweight or obese, which, according to Obesity Australia costs the economy $58.2 billion annually.

Shockingly, these statistics are on par with the United States which is why understanding and being accountable for our diet is our best insurance to avoid becoming another statistic.

That includes knowing the difference between so-called “healthier” options versus regular, starting with the simple staple of milk.

“For decades health experts have told us to go lean and ditch the cream and many of us have taken their advice,” Robbie Clarke, dietitian and sports nutritionist told The Huffington Post Australia.

This is because the skim option contains less fat and by extension, calories -- and works to keep your daily calorie count in check.

Clarke said the process of removing the fat from the milk means you are consuming a more processed version and one that doesn’t leave you fully satisfied after consumption.

“You’ll also absorb less of the nutrients in milk without the fat, particularly the fat soluble vitamins such as vitamin D, A and E,” Clarke said.

“On the plus side, the removal of fat means that skim milk is slightly higher in protein and calcium than full cream milk,” Clarke said.

Nutritionist Pip Reed explains it really depends on your health goals as to whether you choose full fat or skim milk.

“Fat is required for nutrient absorption and satiety which are good reasons to choose full cream milk and if you have no weight concerns then this would be the best choice,” Reed told HuffPost Australia.

“Skim milk is significantly lower in calories, lower in fat and slightly higher in protein -- so if it is weight control you are looking for this is a better option,” Reed said.

One of the most common misconceptions about skim milk is that it contains added sugars in processing.

"This is not the case -- it actually contains less sugars in total (most of which come from lactose) than full cream milk,” Clarke said.

When it comes to full fat milk, while it is the least processed type of cow’s milk, it is the highest in fat and saturated fat -- the latter being linked to an increased risk of heart disease.

“Full fat milk is also lower in lactose content due to the exclusion of milk solids, which means it is tolerated better in people with a lactose intolerance. Most people who are lactose intolerant can still drink half to one cup of milk without symptoms,” Clarke said.

The verdict? Both skim and full cream milk provide you with significant health benefits as well as being a good source of calcium and protein.

“As a general rule of thumb, if you don’t consume a lot of milk in your diet, full cream is a good option, but if you consume two to three glasses a day as well as other dairy foods such as yoghurts and cheese, skim milk will help to keep your calories and fat intake in check,” Clarke said.

Reed advises skim is best for weight control while still allowing you to enjoy dairy and the nutrients it provides.

"It’s important to note that full cream milk is the best choice of milk for children aged up to the age of two years (starting from 12 months of age)," Clarke said.

“Finally, regardless of whether you choose skim, low-fat or full cream milk, you'll reap nutritional benefits from all. They are all rich in vitamin D, vitamin A, calcium, phosphorous, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and vitamin B-12. All milks are also a great source of high quality protein,” Clarke said.