What Is the Difference Between Skim Milk & Fat-Free Milk?

There are four main types of milk you can find in supermarkets. Two of these types of milk, full-fat and fat-free, are often referred to by multiple names. Full-fat milk is often called full cream milk or whole milk, while non-fat milk is often referred to as skim milk.

Despite its name, fat-free milk still has a small amount of fat. (Image: Alter_photo/iStock/GettyImages)

Tip

There’s no difference between fat-free milk and skim milk; these products are the same.

What Is Skim Milk?

All milk comes from the same source, but most supermarkets will have multiple types of milk available. The four main types of milk are known as full-fat milk, 2 percent milk, 1 percent milk and fat-free.

All of these types of milk are created by taking raw milk and separating the cream from the whey. Each specific product is then made by combining these two items together again but in specific ratios. This is how milk products may end up with 1 percent or 2 percent fat, no fat at all or be full-fat products. Whole milk's fat percentage is around 3.25 percent fat, while skim milk typically has almost no fat at all.

As a dairy product low in fat, skim milk is also low in saturated fat. According to the American Heart Association, consuming diets rich in saturated fat may be detrimental to your cardiovascular health. However, whether or not the saturated fat in dairy products is detrimental to your health is a current subject of debate.

Skim Milk Nutrition Facts

In every cup (8 ounces or 244 grams) of skim milk, you can find 83 calories, 8.3 grams of protein and 12.2 grams of carbohydrates. Skim milk is commonly known as fat-free milk, but this dairy product still retains a little bit of fat. There are 0.2 grams of fat in every cup of skim milk.

In each cup of skim milk, you can find the following minerals:

  • 23 percent of the daily value (DV) for calcium
  • 8 percent of the DV for potassium
  • 6 percent of the DV for magnesium
  • 20 percent of the DV for phosphorus
  • 14 percent of the DV for selenium
  • 9 percent of the DV for zinc

Each cup of skim milk also contains A, B and D vitamins:

  • 17 percent of the DV for vitamin A
  • 9 percent of the DV for vitamin B1 (thiamin)
  • 34 percent of the DV for vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
  • 17 percent of the DV for vitamin B5
  • 5 percent of the DV for vitamin B6
  • 51 percent of the DV for vitamin B12
  • 15 percent of the DV for vitamin D

Skim vs. Other Milks

Skim milks and other, fattier milks have very different macronutrients and caloric contents. Compared to fat-free milk, one cup (8 ounces or 244 grams) of full-fat cow's milk has 149 calories, 7.7 grams of protein and 11.7 grams of carbohydrates. Each cup (244 grams) of 2 percent milk has 122 calories, 8.1 grams of protein and 11.7 grams of carbohydrates, and the same amount of 1 percent milk has 102 calories, 8.2 grams of protein and 12.2 grams of carbohydrates.

As their names imply, fat-free milk and full-fat milk have dramatically different fat contents. One cup of full-fat cow's milk has 7.9 grams of fat. Out of this amount, 4.6 grams of these come from saturated fat. The other two lower-fat milk products, 2 percent and 1 percent, have 4.8 grams and 2.4 grams of fat, respectively.

Despite these differences in macronutrients, skim milks and fattier milks are much more similar if you're comparing vitamins and minerals.

Skim Milk vs. Whole Milk

Skim milk and whole milk have almost identical mineral contents. In each cup of full-fat cow's milk, you can find a variety of minerals:

  • 21 percent of the DV for calcium
  • 7 percent of the DV for copper
  • 6 percent of the DV for magnesium
  • 16 percent of the DV for phosphorus
  • 7 percent of the DV for potassium
  • 16 percent of the DV for selenium
  • 8 percent of the DV for zinc

This means, with the exception of copper, that skim milk has all of the same nutrients as whole milk. In each cup of full-fat cow's milk, you'll also find several vitamins:

  • 12 percent of the DV for vitamin A
  • 9 percent of the DV for vitamin B1 (thiamin)
  • 32 percent of the DV for vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
  • 18 percent of the DV for vitamin B5
  • 5 percent of the DV for vitamin B6
  • 46 percent of the DV for vitamin B12
  • 16 percent of the DV for vitamin D

While there are slightly more of certain vitamins and slightly less of others, this ultimately means that skim milk and whole milk have comparable nutritional profiles.

Dairy and Your Diet

Dairy is considered to be a healthy food that is particularly good for the health of your bones. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, most people should consume about three cups of dairy every day. These three cups should primarily be low-fat and non-fat products, like cheeses, yogurts and milk. By the Dietary Guidelines standards, this means that 1 percent milk or skim milk are the healthiest dairy beverage choices.

Most people are meant to consume about 2,000 calories each day, but many people consume more diets that are much more rich in calories. Reducing calorie intake is a healthy choice for many people. Since whole milk has nearly twice as many calories as skim milk, skim milk's calorie count and equivalent nutrition can make it a healthier choice.

Ultimately, the type of milk that is best for you will depend on your diet. Someone consuming a high-fat diet would find skim milk to be completely unsuitable to their diet. In contrast, someone on a high-carb, low-fat and low-protein diet might find skim milk to be much better suited to their diet compared to other dairy products.

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