whole vs skim milk

Updated January 12, 2021

Cow’s milk is a source of many essential nutrients — and a fixture in many of our diets.

This delicious dairy beverage is packed with the critical calcium and vitamin D our bodies need. And shoppers can choose from many different types, including 2 percent and fat-free, or skim, as it’s frequently called.

When it comes to milk, skim may seem like a healthier option: It offers nutrients without excess calories. But is skim milk really better than whole?

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The Basics of Milk

At the farm, all cow’s milk starts about the same way.

During the manufacturing process, milk is sorted by fat percentage through a machine called a “centrifuge.” This machine divides the milk into whole and skim categories, along with 1 and 2 percent, by spinning containers of milk at forces as high as 5,000 to 10,000 times that of gravity. Then the processed liquids are separated into different containers.

Skim milk hasn’t always been a grocery store staple. In fact, before WWII skim milk was considered a waste product, and pig, chicken, and cow farmers used skim milk to feed livestock. As dairy products became essential to the war relief programs, farmers saw an opportunity to sell skim milk to civilians on the homefront. Skim milk hasn’t left grocery store shelves since.

Nutritional Value of Milk

Skim milk contains fewer calories and fat than that of whole milk:

  • A glass of whole milk is roughly 150 calories and contains 4 grams of fat per 8 ounce serving.
  • A glass of fat-free or skim milk contains roughly 90 calories and nearly no fat per 8 ounce serving.

Low-fat milk is ideal for weight loss because it contains fewer calories. But there’s a catch: You may feel like you need to drink more skim milk to feel full, which can add unexpected calories to your diet.

Skim Milk

The process of making skim milk removes fatty cream, but also removes fat-soluble vitamins D, A, E, and K. Skim milk can contain lower amounts of many essential nutrients, though many brands can add back some vitamins, such as A and D.

Among many essential vitamins and nutrients, a serving of skim milk contains no saturated fat. Saturated fats are linked to high cholesterol and can increase your risk of heart disease.

Whole Milk

A glass of whole milk includes 4.6 grams, or 20% of your daily recommended serving, of saturated fats. It’s important to be mindful of your daily saturated fat intake, but a glass of whole milk may not be quite as bad as you may think.

Studies have found that those who consume high-fat dairy products regularly, such as whole milk, may be at a lower risk for weight gain. A review published by the National Library of Medicine reported that 11 out of 16 studies found a link between consuming high-fat dairy and a lower risk of obesity.

Unless your doctor has recommended a low-fat dairy diet, you can simply choose what you like at the grocery store — either whole or skim milk will do. Both types of cow’s milk offer vitamins and minerals. Whole milk is great for gaining lean muscle, while skim is a good option for shaving off calories.

About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 700 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations in central and western Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals.