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Is Drinking Low-Fat Milk Really A Healthy Choice?

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Is Low-Fat Milk A Bad Idea?

For many, milk is a standard part of the daily diet. But if you're trying to lose weight and get fit, the concept of low-fat milk may pose a tricky question. After all, saying no to fatty foods is usually on the list of dos and don'ts. Is it truly the best choice, though? Before you make the switch, take a moment to dig deeper into this seemingly "healthy" beverage.

When you’re trying to eat a healthy diet, replacing regular or skim milk for a low-fat option may seem like the obvious choice. But is it the best choice? Your body needs some fat, after all. Studies show that switching to low-fat products may not make a dent in cardiovascular improvements. And while these products might not have much fat, they often boast high levels of sugar.

Why The Debate?

There’s a major belief that a low-fat diet is the answer to health problems and weight loss. Additionally, reduced caloric intake is another reason why people switch to low-fat products, milk or otherwise. However, one research study found that people who consumed regular dairy over 15 years had a 46 percent lower risk of developing diabetes than people who ate low-fat dairy. The experts concluded that there wasn’t enough significant evidence to suggest that low-fat dairy induced more health improvements than whole fat.1So what’s the real story? Is low-fat milk healthy and a must-do or something to avoid?

Satiety And Weight Loss

Feeling full for a long period of time means you’re less likely to binge later on. This, in turn, means you’ll be able to cut down on unwanted calories and thus manage your weight better. Foods that contain fat will keep you satiated longer than most carbohydrates, especially ones that are considered to be high glycemic. When manufacturers make low-fat milk, they replace the fat for carbs or sugars. It’s their way of maintaining flavor and taste. But this can also result in a product that doesn’t keep you full for long.

Plus, according to one piece of research, fat acts as an appetite regulator and inhibits gastric emptying. It also controls the transit of food through the intestine. However, remember that it can work both ways. The delicious taste of fatty food can also increase your appetite, a behavior that experts refer to as the “activation of the hedonic system”.2This may not, however, be true of regular fat milk and may be more relevant to things like fried chicken or a serving of onion rings. You will need to see what works for you.

Spiked Sugar Levels And Risk Of Diabetes And Heart Disease

Do you have diabetes or pre-diabetes? Are you at risk of developing insulin resistance? If so, low-fat milk may actually do more harm than good. Harvard research suggests that these milk products usually have more refined carbohydrates and sugars than conventional milk. Your body burns through them faster, causing blood sugar to spike and adversely impacting insulin levels.3So even if you are currently disease–free, sustained intake of a high–carb, low-fat diet could actually raise your risk of heart disease or diabetes.

According to experts, this type of diet can also increase blood pressure and triglycerides. It can also cause a drop in HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Together, these factors contribute to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. The sudden spike in blood sugar and insulin can also wreak havoc on your body.4

Fat In Another Form?

The fat in your milk isn’t the only thing that can promote the development of body fat. Carbohydrates can also encourage fat production. When insulin senses more sugar and carbohydrates, it jump-starts fat storage. Ultimately, those carbs that replaced the original fats will turn into fat anyway. Additionally, the carbs that turn into fat can cause an adverse impact on the distribution of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.5

Metabolic Syndrome: Where’s The Real Risk?

A growing body of work suggests that high-fat diets aren’t the culprit for the development of metabolic syndrome, obesity, and heart disease. Sugar and carbs may be the ones to blame. So instead of reducing overall fats, lowering carbohydrate intake may be the answer. Studies confirm that a low-carb diet is especially beneficial for weight loss and lipid profile improvement. In other words, low-carb intake delivers a better metabolic response than a conventional diet that limits fat.6Of course, it’s still a good idea to balance fat intake. Moderation is key, after all.

Alternatives To Low-Fat Milk

While the jury is still out on low-fat milk, evidence leans toward consumption of regular fat dairy along with a well-rounded diet low in saturated fats. Make an effort to regularly consume fresh fruit, veggies, whole grain, and lean protein. This way, you’ll have the capacity to continue enjoying regular fat milk. 7

Not convinced? Experiment with homemade non-dairy alternatives if you still need milk in your coffee and tea. Try whipping up a batch of almond milk – you may end up loving the taste. Additional alternatives include milk made from rice and soy. Remember, processed and packaged versions of these milks may equal high amounts of sugar, additives, and stabilizers. Make it a point to check the label or make your own. You got this!

References   [ + ]

1.Yakoob, Mohammad Y., Peilin Shi, Walter C. Willett, Kathryn M. Rexrode, Hannia Campos, E. John Orav, Frank B. Hu, and Dariush Mozaffarian. “Circulating Biomarkers of Dairy Fat and Risk of Incident Diabetes Mellitus Among US Men and Women in Two Large Prospective Cohorts.” Circulation (2016): CIRCULATIONAHA-115.
2.Samra, Rania Abou. “Fats and satiety.” (2010).
3.Fats and Cholesterol. Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.
4.Ask the Expert: Healthy Fats. Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.
5.DiNicolantonio, James J. “The cardiometabolic consequences of replacing saturated fats with carbohydrates or Ω-6 polyunsaturated fats: Do the dietary guidelines have it wrong?.” Open heart 1, no. 1 (2014): e000032.
6.Stern, Linda, Nayyar Iqbal, Prakash Seshadri, Kathryn L. Chicano, Denise A. Daily, Joyce McGrory, Monica Williams, Edward J. Gracely, and Frederick F. Samaha. “The effects of low-carbohydrate versus conventional weight loss diets in severely obese adults: one-year follow-up of a randomized trial.” Annals of internal medicine 140, no. 10 (2004): 778-785.
7.Healthy Eating Plate & Healthy Eating Pyramid. Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.
CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.

CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.