Is skim milk healthier?
We have been hearing/reading from all directions for the past years that skim milk is a healthier choice over the full fat. The main reason is its lower content of fat. That saturated fat which has been made a culprit of heart disease and also obesity.
None of this has been proven absolutely correct, according to the science (reference 1, reference 2, reference 3). Of course, excess fat or any calories above what you manage to burn will make you gain weight, but those consuming reasonable amounts of dairy fat over low-fat or fat-free, tend to have better body composition (reference 4).
The skim milk is not only tasteless (due to removed fat content), it is also depleted of nutrients, therefore it is by no means healthier as some health professionals still claim (well, that might not have been a professional at all and there were more false claims on other pages of that article). There they wrote:
Look out for whole milk, though … One glass contains a whopping 8 grams of fat and 150 calories to boot. Make the healthier choice: Go for the skim or lower fat milk instead.
Above this statement they also wrote:
Milk is undoubtedly good for your body. It is a great calcium source, protein rich, and full of vitamins A and D.
If that person had some knowledge of what he/she was writing about (author not published), they would not parrot this bogus statement. Vitamins A and D are fat soluble. Remove the fat and you lose the vitamins.
What is it about vitamin D?
Vitamin D is not too abundant in our food. It is cholesterol based and most of it is activated in our body via certain wavelengths of UV light falling on our skin. However, depending on the latitude, the further from the equator the less of this compound you are able to synthesize. For example, in the northern parts of the UK we do not get sufficient sunshine intensity for several months during the winter at all. And no, the sunbeds are not a guarantee to fix this problem.
So, if people do not supply vitamin D from their diet or supplements and they do not go on holiday with enough sunlight each winter to recharge their stores, they are very likely to be low in this vitamin. People with darker skin, housebound, or those who cover majority of their body throughout the year (including the sunscreen during holidays) are particularly at risk of vitamin D deficiency. And, rickets is not the only symptom. The science still discovers many roles of this hormone (yes, vitamin D is actually a hormone) in our body and it is thought that the current dietary reference values are underestimating our actual needs for vitamin D.
Does fortification help?
OK, so you have read that the skim milk is fortified with vitamin D and that should sort it out. Well, how about the fact that when vitamin D is consumed along some fat its absorption improves by a third? This brings you back to the basics: vitamin D is FAT SOLUBLE. It needs fat as a vehicle to the body.
Did you know that skim milk contains more calcium per volume than full-fat milk? That is because when the fat is removed, to fill the volume of liter, additional volume of skim milk is added, with the calcium content including. Calcium is not removed with the fat. That is true for protein, too.
However, with removed vitamin D (or when its absorption is reduced with removed fat) also the calcium has a lower absorption and utilisation rate in the body, meaning that more is excreted in the faeces, so you are absorbing even less calcium from the skim milk than from the whole milk.
The body also has a certain limit for the dietary calcium absorption according to its needs and absorption capacity. On average, only about 20–30% of the dietary calcium is actually absorbed. With increased supply on its own you will not absorb more, in normal circumstances, unless you were deficient in calcium previously. Going over the limit with excessive supplementation of both calcium and/or vitamin D will cause other health issues if more calcium was absorbed than the body can handle safely.
We eat to satisfy hunger, don’t we?
And then they nailed it:
The lower fat glass of milk might seem less satisfying, but you’ll be cutting the calories in half while retaining many of the same healthy benefits.
In fact, it does not seem to be less satisfying. It is. The body is not stupid. It has learned (evolved) that with fats there comes a lot of energy and nutrients. Fat in the diet brings pleasure and satisfaction, curbing hunger to a certain level via action of several hormones triggered by fat present in the food, giving a feedback to the brain. This does not work when fat is consumed with sugar or something sweet at once, however.
Fat also delays emptying of the stomach, making you feel full for longer and slowing down absorption of carbohydrates, keeping the blood glucose more stable and hunger pangs at bay.
So, when the nutrients are not coming in, the body asks for more food to cover its needs, regardless of how many calories came in already. The fat induced feedback is not present and the body does not feel the same level of satisfaction from low-fat foods. That contributes to overeating and weight gain, the opposite you aimed for when you were reaching for a low-energy food item.
After all, does this really sound like you are getting ‘many of the same healthy benefits‘?
What is it about the skim milk then?
The truth is simple. Once, the skim milk, a by-product of dairy production (cream, butter), was given to animals or thrown away – as one farmer told me recently what they used to do with this waste product years ago. They fed animals with it to fatten them! Today the dairy industry has found a way of selling you this by-product for the price of a genuine and nutritious milk. Simple as that. This tasteless and almost translucent fluid has been heavily promoted in the media and pushed by the delusional professionals for the benefit of the industry and at your loss.
Here is a nice overview of the evolution of skim-milk propaganda in the U.S. I love their illustration picture. It says it all.
A final word
To be fair, skim milk can have its use in the food industry and in sports nutrition where proteins are appreciated with as little fat as possible. But skim milk is NOT a relevant substitute to whole milk (or semi-skim), to any age group.
I personally prefer semi-skim, because I find the whole milk a bit heavy. I am used to drinking semi-skim, just as a compromise between the two, because I also used to believe that whole milk was not good for me. And heavy is the key word here. It gives you a clue why whole milk with just a few grams of fat on top makes your stomach stop craving for more food, which usually are processed food products and snacks. It was meant to be like this. When you compare human and cows milk, human breast milk has even a higher fat content than whole cows milk, volume per volume. Think about it.