Although low fat milk certainly packs fewer calories and fat than whole milk, we must consider the entire nutritional profile of these two options. The following are a few facts to clarify the difference between these choices:
Low-fat milk won’t fill you up as much, resulting in more calorie consumption of potentially less nutritious foods
Restricting calories leads only to temporary weight-loss since metabolism adjusts to weight-loss by slowing down
Whole milk’s 3 macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) are naturally perfectly balanced. It contains complete protein, B vitamins, and saturated and unsaturated fats. It also contains vitamins A and D that help digest protein, assimilate calcium, and the fat content is essential to absorb fat-soluble vitamins.
Skim milk (and products) require synthetic and processed additives to make it nutritionally equivalent to whole milk, which doesn’t necessarily translate equivalently to bioavailability (the body’s ability to absorb and assimilate nutrients from food)
Another question logically follows; should we be drinking milk at all? According to a Harvard Milk study, drinking milk may not even be as good for our bones as previously thought, and there are many other calcium rich and nutrient dense options to address this concern. That being said, the data is inconclusive and we must make individual informed decisions. Here are some facts to consider:
Vitamin D enhances calcium absorption (through diet, sun exposure, and supplementation)
Before the age of 30 years old, individuals who get enough calcium and physical activity can maximize bone storage which provides an important foundation for the future
Regular weight-bearing exercise helps limit bone loss in adulthood
Vitamin K found in green leafy vegetables plays an important role in calcium regulation and bone formation. Aim for one or more servings of broccoli, Brussel sprouts, dark green lettuce, collard greens or kale daily
Caffeine and cola tends to promote calcium excretion
Too much protein may draw calcium from the bones but studies are controversial as some maintain that protein may increase bone mineral density
Avoid excess preformed vitamin A (retinol) and opt for a multivitamin with most or all of its vitamin A in the form of beta carotene which doesn’t increase risk of fracture
There are many non-dairy sources of calcium that when consumed in conjunction with adequate levels of vitamin D can provide sufficient calcium. It is however important to cook some of these calcium rich foods (such as spinach and chard) due to their oxalic acid and phytate content. Oxalic acid and phytates makes calcium and other vitamins and minerals more difficult to absorb. For children, juicing non-dairy sources of calcium may help ensure that they are getting adequate consumption for their needs. Almond milk is also a source of calcium however the bioavailability of these foods is less than from dairy sources.