Is Whole Milk Really Fattening?

May 19, 2011

You’re at the supermarket about to grab the milk’s carton for the week or at Starbucks looking at the pitchers deciding what kind of milk to put in your coffee. What's going on in your mind? Probably this: should I choose the skim milk and keep the pounds off or go for the taste and have reduced-fat milk?
If you were to follow the USDA recommendations (and probably your trainer) you should go for skim. Actually the idea that skim is better has become so popular that in some coffee houses you can't even find reduced-fat milk not to mention whole.
But is it really true? Let’s dig into this question a little bit more.




Is whole milk fattening?

Let's start with the question of what's fattening.
Whole milk contains more calories and more fat: a cup has 146 calories and almost 8 grams of fat, reduced-fat (2%) has 122 calories and almost 5 grams of fat, low-fat (1%) has 103 calories and 2.5 grams of fat, and nonfat (skim) has 83 calories and virtually no fat.
However, when it comes to losing weight, restricting calories has a poor track record: we discussed this thoroughly when we talked about whether it’s better to have a big or a small breakfast.
In fact, evidence gleaned from numerous scientific studies says that if you starve yourself for lunch or breakfast you typically compensate at dinner.
Walt Willet of the Harvard School of Public Health wrote in the American Journal of Medicine, "Diets high in fat do not appear to be the primary cause of the high prevalence of excess body fat in our society, and reductions in fat will not be a solution."
It's also becoming widely accepted that fats actually curb your appetite, by triggering the release of the hormone cholecystokinin, which causes to make you feel full faster. Fats also slow the release of sugar into your bloodstream, reducing the amount that can be stored as fat.
In other words, you can say that the more fat in your milk, the less fat around your waist. 
Not only will low-fat milk fail to trim your gut, it might even make you fatter than if you were to drink whole.
In 2005, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and other institutions studied the weight and milk consumption of 12,829 kids ages 9 to 14 from across the country. "Contrary to our hypothesis," they reported, "skim and 1% milk were associated with weight gain, but dairy fat was not."



But what about heart health?

What about heart health? Low-fat milk should be better for it, right? We are often told to watch our consumption of dairy because it raises our bad cholesterol, the kind known as LDL.
But hear this out, there are four different kinds of LDL, and only the smallest and densest of them are linked with heart disease.
Dairy fat, it turns out, affects only the large, fluffy kind of LDL—the benign kind.
And here's a final thought: how would you feel if you opened a carton and poured a chalky, bluish-white liquid into your coffee? That's the color many nonfat milks are before powdered milk is added to whiten them—a process that brings its own problems. Any way you look at it, there's been a lot of whitewashing of skim milk's image.



The truth about skim milk

To turn skim milk white, “some companies fortify their product with powdered skim," says Bob Roberts, a dairy scientist at Penn State. Powdered skim is produced by spraying the liquid under heat and high pressure, a process that oxidizes the cholesterol. In animal studies, oxidized cholesterol triggers a host of biological changes, leading to plaque formation in the arteries and heart disease.
Bob Roberts claims that the amount of OC created by adding powdered skim is "not very much," but until the effects on humans are known, it's impossible to say what's a safe level.
But that’s not all Spanish researchers reported in 1996. "Oxidized Cholesterol are mutagenic and carcinogenic," they wrote.
Moreover, Australian researchers studied rabbits fed Oxidized Cholesterol and found that the animals "had a 64% increase in total aortic cholesterol" despite having less cholesterol in their blood than rabbits fed natural sources of the substance.

Considerations

I have to confess that for a long time I’ve been drinking skim milk - notwithstanding it’s watery taste (let’s face it doesn’t taste of milk at all) - because I was really concerned with the extra calories and fat contained in whole milk.
Now, after all this research I made, I switched to the reduced fat (2%) one, at least it does taste a little better and I haven’t noticed any change in my waist line, yet...

The Iron You

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