Milk Bubbles

Does Anybody Really Like Skim Milk?

Growing questions about the evidence for recommendations to avoid dairy fat make us wonder, does anyone really like skim milk? You’ll find few people who say it tastes as good as real, whole milk.

For decades now, low-fat dairy has been recommended as a seemingly immovable nutritional standard. Nutrition rules for school lunches mean that whole milk is simply not available. Yet, as David Ludwig and Walter Willett pointed out in JAMA Pediatrics:

Remarkably few randomized clinical trials have examined the effects of reduced-fat milk (0% to 2% fat content) compared with whole milk on weight gain or other health outcomes. Lacking high-quality interventional data, beverage guidelines presume that the lower calorie content of reduced-fat milk will decrease total calorie intake and excessive weight gain.

Ludwig, Willett, and others have suggested that because reduced-fat dairy products tend to be less satisfying, they might not be such a smart choice in the long run.

And yet, public health advisers persist in recommending reduced-fat dairy products. In the new Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee one of the primary recommendations states that:

The overall body of evidence examined by the 2015 DGAC identifies that a healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts.

For people who don’t like milk or can’t tolerate it, the solution is simple — avoid it altogether. That’s what New York Times columnist Mark Bittman wrote in an infamous 2012 column that had some of the qualities of a rant.

Perhaps Bittman is getting his way. Total per capita milk consumption has been dropping steadily since 1945, with no relief in sight. For most of that time, reduced-fat milk has been on the rise — between the 1960 and 2009, per-capita consumption rose more than five-fold.

But the trend favoring reduced-fat milk may be ending. IRI, a primary source for tracking food store purchases, reports that sales of whole milk were up by 1.3% in 2014, while reduced-fat products were down by 5.2%.

Perhaps the public has figured out that dogmatic recommendations for reduced-fat milk aren’t really justified.

Unsatisfying food is seldom a good strategy for promoting health.

Click here to read the commentary by Ludwig and Willett. Click here to read more about milk sales trends, and click here to read more discussion of the merits of reduced-fat dairy products.

Milk Bubbles, photograph © Chapendra / flickr

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2 Responses to “Does Anybody Really Like Skim Milk?”

  1. April 07, 2015 at 6:17 am, Joe Gitchell said:

    As an N of one, I prefer 2% or even whole for smaller amounts after having grown up on skim (“blue”) milk.

    Are there any plans to study this sort of stuff properly, or is it just so complicated? One would think that with smartphone tracking technology that field work on consumption would become more technically possible…. Perhaps some “ecological momentary assessment” rock stars (thinking Saul Shiffman, Jean Paty, Arthur Stone) might be engaged by diet/nutrition/obesity researchers to get it done (but that may already be well underway–I hope so!)

    • April 07, 2015 at 8:48 am, Ted said:

      I hope so, too, Joe. A randomized study should not be too hard.