Since I was a kid, I’ve heard, “Drink skim milk, it’s better for you.”
Even now, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Heart Association and the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommend children drink three glasses of skim milk each day to receive the benefits of vitamin D and calcium without the calories.
So my sister and I dutifully would drink up our “blue milk,” as we called it, but we hated every gulp.
The only break we got from our “blue milk” would be during our annual summer visits to our aunt’s farm.
They raised beef cattle and milked cows for a living. Inside their refrigerator, jars of cream-topped milk filled the door.
As soon as I walked in the door, I would demand a glass of milk.
Gulping down the chilled drink, I would relish the creaminess of the full-fat milk gliding over my tongue as I drank the relatively unprocessed milk — my aunt only would pasteurize it — right from the cow.
Then after our weeklong visit ended, I would go home to California and return to drinking “blue milk.”
Thing is, my tongue might have had a point.
Research revealed that drinking skim milk actually might be associated with weight gain — just the opposite of what everyone had assumed.
In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. David Ludwig, director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, and Dr. Walter Willett, chair of the department of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, have found little evidence that skim milk has more health benefits than whole milk — and it actually might cause weight gain — or at least go hand in hand with something else that does.
Ludwig and Willett were surprised to see that regardless of ethnicity or socioeconomic background, kids who drank skim milk were heavier than kids who drank whole milk.
Well, when I read that, I got ticked off. I got a double whammy, I struggled with my weight and struggled to drink that “blue milk.”
The researchers toiled to come up with an explanation — since a glass of skim milk has at least a third fewer calories than whole milk — about 150 calories for whole milk versus 90 calories for skim milk.
This study toyed with the theory that skim milk is so unsatisfying to kids that they would eat that extra cookie or serving of dinner.
The researchers also wondered whether people got so confident they’d cut their calories after drinking skim milk that they subconsciously ate more high-calorie items later.
That would have been me. “Oh, I virtuously saved 60 calories by drinking this glass of skim milk, I can eat more,” I would justify to myself.
The Lugwig-Willett study also hypothesized that nonfat milk may lead its consumers into eating high-glycemic-index foods (read: high-carbohydrate foods). A diet full of refined carbohydrates leads to increased triglycerides, which increase the risk for heart disease and high cholesterol.
Worse than all of that, though, Lugwig and Willette’s study found schools and health experts believe so strongly in getting low-fat milk that they’re willing to add sweeteners — like chocolate. Turns out, a child receives 13 grams more sugar in a glass of flavored milk than in a serving of whole milk.
So Lugwig and Willette concluded they can’t find any evidence that skim milk provides any more health benefits than whole milk.
“We just don’t see any benefit for focusing on reducing fat,” Ludwig said. “We think it’s a holdover from a paradigm that evolved in the late 20th century based on the relatively simplistic idea that fat has the most calories per gram and that eliminating fat will reduce weight gain.”
So why do we insist on demonizing everything that tastes good, like my aunt’s full-fat milk? Maybe what Ludwig and Willette’s study suggests — take even expert advice with a grain of salt.
Well, not too much salt ... but that’s a whole other column.
In the meantime, I knew my taste buds were right. So go ahead and drink that creamy, delicious cup of full-fat milk as a treat — it actually could help you lose weight if you don’t overdo it.