Is Whole Milk Healthy? Here’s What a Dietitian Says – EatingWell

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Just 100 years ago, Americans were waking up to a carton of milk being delivered to their front door stop. Since then, milk has been thoroughly scrutinized: It has either been given the green light by some, deemed off limits by others or steered cleared of by those with lactose-sensitive stomachs. Whole milk has also been pushed aside by the plethora of other dairy and non-dairy milks options that have taken up space in the dairy aisle. This may also leave you feeling confused over what is the best option.


Ahead we examine the nutritional content of a glass of whole milk compared to other popular varieties of dairy milk, discuss the pros and cons of drinking it, and discuss how you can incorporate it into a balanced eating pattern.


Whole Milk Nutrition


According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), here’s how one 8-ounce serving (1 cup) of whole (3.25% fat) milk stacks up compared to 2%, 1% and skim alternatives:

Whole (3.25%) Milk 2% Milk 1% Milk Skim Milk
Calories 150 122 106 84
Carbohydrates 12 grams (g) 12 g 12 g 12 g
Dietary Fiber 0 g 0 g 0 g 0 g
Total Sugar 12 g 12 g 12 g 12 g
Added Sugar 0 g 0 g 0 g 0 g
Protein 8 g 8 g 8 g 8 g
Total Fat 8 g 5 g 2 g 0 g
Saturated Fat 5 g 3 g 1 g 0 g
Cholesterol 29 mg 20 mg 12 mg 7 mg
Sodium 93 mg 96 mg 96 mg 101 mg
Calcium 306 mg (24% Daily Value [DV]) 309 mg (24% DV) 310 mg (24% DV) 325 mg (25% DV)
Potassium 374 mg (8% DV) 390 mg (9% DV) 391 mg (9% DV) 411 mg (10% DV)
Vitamin B12 1.3 mcg (54% DV) 1.3 mcg (54% DV) 1.5 mcg (62% DV) 1.4 mcg (58% DV)
Vitamin D 2.4 mcg (12% DV) 2.8 mcg (14% DV) 2.6 mcg (13% DV) 2.7 mcg (13% DV)

A glass of whole milk contains all nine essential amino acids making it a complete protein and high-quality option to help you meet your needs. It provides an excellent source of calcium, supplying 24% of your daily needs for the bone- and teeth-building mineral. It also contains over half of your daily needs for vitamin B12, which assists in building red blood cells and the nervous system. 

The only major differences between whole milk and its counterparts are the fat and saturated fat contents. Lesser-fat alternatives are also slightly lower in calories than whole milk. Otherwise, the protein, carbohydrate and micronutrient content of whole milk compared to 2%, 1% and skim milks is pretty much the same. 


Health Benefits of Whole Milk


Your Muscles May Recovery Better Post-Workout.

Whole milk is an ideal thirst quencher to sip on post-workout as it contains 88% water. It also has plenty of nutrients to help replenish glycogen stores, as one cup contains 12 grams of carbohydrates. Electrolytes aren’t just found in sports drinks but also in milk, including sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium that are lost through sweat and need to be replenished post-workout. You also don’t need to chug back a scoop of protein powder or BCAAs to get your fill of protein. A glass of milk packs 8 grams of protein and all nine essential amino acids (and is a less expensive option, too).


It May Help You Meet Your Vitamin D Needs.

Vitamin D is not found in many food sources, which is worth noting as vitamin D deficiency is an issue prevalent on a global scale. A glass of whole milk provides you with 12% of your daily value for vitamin D, helping you inch closer to your daily needs. Getting enough of the sunshine vitamin is important, as vitamin D supports so many essential functions including calcium absorption, supporting a healthy immune system, reducing inflammation and boosting your mood.


It May Keep You Feeling Full for Longer. 

Although some people may avoid whole milk due to its fat content, fat is a critical macronutrient we need to consume daily. Among other necessary body functions like supporting brain and immune health, dietary fat provides feelings of fullness and satiety, and without it we may not feel fully satisfied after eating. Being satiated post-meals can help prevent overeating and makes it easier to eat with our hunger and fullness cues.


You May Absorb Fat-Soluble Vitamins Better.

Milk contains all four fat-soluble vitamins: vitamin A, D, E and K. Fat-soluble vitamins differ from water-soluble ones, as they need a fat to be present to be best absorbed and used by the body. A glass of whole milk already contains fat; therefore, it’s a perfect vehicle to aid in absorption and deliver these essential vitamins to your body.


Precautions for Whole Milk 


You Consume More Than The Recommended Amount of Saturated Fat. 

Whole milk does contain the highest amount of saturated fat amongst other cow milks, which is something to keep in mind. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting saturated fat to 5 to 6% of your daily calories. For a person following a 2,000 calorie diet, that would be no more than 13 grams of saturated fat a day. If you do drink a glass or two of whole milk each day, you may find yourself close to hitting the AHA’s limits. In addition, if you consume other animal products (beef, chicken or pork) or other full-fat dairy products (such as yogurt or cheese) you may go over your daily saturated fat limit. 

If you do love to enjoy a glass of whole milk along with meals that are high in saturated fat, you may limit sources of saturated fat in the rest of your meals that day. At the next meal or snack, opt for a cup of nonfat yogurt over a full-fat cup, or choose a leaner cut of meat or plant-based protein sources to help keep saturated fat intake in check. It’s important to consider how foods fit into your overall eating pattern to give more context on how they might influence your health. 


Tips for Including Whole Milk in a Healthy Eating Pattern


Whole milk is highly versatile since you can simply sip a glass of it as-is, pour it over your favorite bowl of muesli or cereal or use it to cook up your morning oatmeal. You can use it in place of water or non-dairy milk in most any healthy smoothie recipe. You can froth it up and pour it into your morning cup of coffee, espresso or tea. Plus, you can even use it in savory cream-based dishes, such as our Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup recipe.  


Frequently Asked Questions


1. Is it healthier to drink whole milk? 

Whole milk is a nutritional-dense beverage that contains the same amount of protein, vitamins and minerals as fat-free and low-fat milk. If you prefer the taste of whole milk over fat-free or reduced-fat milks, opt for whole milk. If you find yourself eating a lot of other foods rich in saturated fat such as full-fat cheeses, yogurts and meat, consider reaching for a low-fat glass of milk to help keep your intake in check.

2. Is whole milk harder to digest? 

It’s not necessarily harder to digest. However, like other foods that contain fat, whole milk may take longer to digest. Fat is the macronutrient that has the longest duration for your body to break down and digest, compared to protein and carbohydrate.



The Bottom Line

Whole milk is a nutrient-rich beverage packed with all three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates and fat. It deserves a spot in the dairy aisle and can absolutely be part of a healthy and balanced eating pattern if you enjoy it (and if you’re mindful about other sources of saturated fat in your day). It supports bone health, contains important electrolytes, can double as a recovery beverage and contains essential vitamins and minerals. Whole milk is incredibly versatile and if you are able to tolerate it, it can be a healthy addition to a meal or snack.

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