How the wrong milk could completely sabotage your weight loss

After years of experimenting with everything from almond milk to hemp milk to oat milk, I’ve recently done something controversial — I’ve started drinking whole milk again.

Now, for the record, I’m not drinking any old whole milk. It’s high-quality stuff — organic and grass-fed. But every morning as I’m pouring thick, decadent whole milk into my blender, I wonder… am I making a mistake?

It’s been drilled into my head for so long that cow’s milk causes inflammation. Plus, there’s the whole calorie issue. Whole milk has far more calories in it then the alternative milk I used consistently for years, almond milk.

I know I’m not the only one struggling to make the best milk choices. At some point in your life, I’m guessing you’ve stared at the grocery store’s milk refrigerator wondering which of the many kinds of milk will truly “do your body good.”

Related: How whole milk keeps your heart whole

Maybe you’ve wondered whether you should go with plant-based milks over whole milk like me. Or maybe you’ve asked yourself a far more common question among milk drinkers — should you choose whole milk or reduced-fat milk?

It’s a hard question to answer. There are a lot of seemingly good reasons to choose reduced-fat milk. Official health guidelines tell you to choose low-fat dairy products over full-fat ones. You want to keep your calorie intake down. You want to stay on top of your heart health. You want to maintain a healthy BMI.

But just in case you’re still struggling to make (or stick to) a milk decision, there’s something I want to tell you. It’s something pretty surprising about the difference between reduced-fat and full-fat milk. Reduced-fat milk increases the odds of becoming overweight or obese… by a lot.

Whole milk makes children much less obese

A recent research review led by St. Michael’s Hospital of Unity Health Toronto found that children who drank whole milk instead of reduced-fat milk were far less likely to be overweight or obese.

In the review, researchers examined 28 studies that included nearly 21,000 children between one and 18 years old. Roughly 65 percent of those studies showed that children who drank whole milk were less likely to be overweight or obese than children who drank reduced-fat milk… and not just by a little.

After they crunched the numbers, researchers determined that whole milk reduced the odds of being overweight or obese by a whopping 40 percent.

But I hear you asking, “What about us adults?” You’ll be glad to know that previous research found that adults that consumed dairy lost substantially more weight (and faster) than those who took in less.

Now, here’s the interesting thing… national health organizations in the U.S. and Canada (where the review happened) recommend children drink and eat reduced-fat dairy products to prevent obesity. They do the same for adults. But clearly, that advice isn’t having the intended effect.

What’s the final word on milk?

There are no easy answers in the search for the healthiest milk. But here are some things to weigh…

If you’re not lactose intolerant, don’t have dairy allergies and aren’t vegan, organic, grass-fed whole milk may be the way to go.

Related: Your heart called and wants dairy back

There’s evidence that alternative kinds of milk like almond milk and oat milk contain little of their namesake ingredients — they’re mostly just water and added vitamins. They may contain fewer calories than whole milk, but they also contain far less protein. Plus, as we saw in this research, fewer calories might not equate to being less overweight anyway.

So, don’t be afraid to go back to old fashioned cow’s milk. But don’t be tempted to save a few bucks and buy conventional cow’s milk either. There’s evidence that conventional milk contains an unbalanced ratio of omega-6 and omega-3, which can cause inflammation. That may be why milk’s gotten such a bad rap in the health community.

But grass-fed milk contains the perfect balance of omega-3 to omega-6, so it’s not likely to cause inflammation. In fact, grass-fed milk even contains CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), a super healthy fat that’s known to fight inflammation.

Sources:

  1. Study: Children who drank whole milk had lower risk of being overweight or obese — MedicalXpress
  2. Whole milk compared with reduced-fat milk and childhood overweight: a systematic review and meta-analysisThe American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
  3. Got milk? This is the kind you should be drinking — USA Today

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Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.