Why Can’t I Drink Whole Milk?

By Mary Parsons, MS, RD

Q: Why can’t I drink whole milk? I thought it was good fat.

A: While advances in nutrition science are revealing that our traditional categories of “good fat” and “bad fat” may be oversimplified, it is still a helpful approach for making the best food choices.

Most of the fat in whole milk is saturated fat, which is considered a “bad fat” because consuming it in high amounts has been observed to increase the body’s levels of LDL (“bad cholesterol”) and risk of cardiovascular disease. The best choices for fats to include in your diet are unsaturated fats: both mono-unsaturated and polyunsaturated, and especially omega-3 fats. These are the fats found in nuts, seeds, oils, avocados, whole grains and fatty fish. These foods provide essential nutrients and signal the body to have the same feelings of fullness and satisfaction as other fats while minimizing risk factors for heart disease.

You may have heard about recent research suggesting that eating full-fat dairy products may be linked to lower risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease. To understand this finding, it’s important to recognize that a cup of milk is more than just its saturated fat content: it’s rich in nutrients like protein, calcium, phosphorus, and vitamins A and D. People who drink milk – whether whole or lower fat milk – get the benefits of all of these nutritious components, and this has an impact on health and disease risk.

And if your goals include maintaining a healthy weight, it’s also important to consider energy balance – the basic calories-in vs. calories-out equation that determines the numbers on your scale. A cup of whole milk has about 150 calories, while a cup of 1% milk has about 100. Over time, this difference can have a big impact on weight maintenance!