Full-cream milk, also known as whole milk, contains about 3.5 percent butterfat. Most people find that this rich, creamy liquid tastes better than nonfat milk, which can seem watery and thin in comparison. And some argue that whole milk is healthier, despite its fat and calorie content, because it increases satiety and prevents overeating. However, whole milk has disadvantages, and medical authorities often recommend choosing reduced-fat or nonfat milk as a daily beverage.
Full-fat milk contains 5 grams of saturated fat per 1-cup serving, which is 20 percent of the daily limit. If you also eat cheese, butter, coconut oil or other foods rich in saturated fat, it’s easy to overshoot 25 grams per day. However, saturated fat may not deserve the bad reputation it has. A March 2014 meta-analysis published in the “Annals of Internal Medicine” concluded that saturated fat doesn’t cause heart disease as was previously thought. But as of March 2014, the American Heart Association continues to recommend fat-free or low-fat dairy products over full-fat versions. If you’re at risk for cardiovascular disease, your doctor may advise you to limit saturated fat.
Even if you’re unconcerned about saturated fat intake, full-cream milk still contains 149 calories per cup -- considerably more than skim milk, with 83 calories per cup. Skim milk is also slightly higher in vitamins and minerals than whole milk, though both are excellent sources of a wide array of micronutrients. Soymilk, rice milk, almond milk and other nondairy milks also usually contain well under 100 calories per cup. Unless you’re trying to gain weight, there’s little reason to consume so many daily extra calories on your cereal or in your coffee.
Cow’s milk contains significant amounts of estrogens and other hormones. Ganmaa Davaasambuu, a scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health, explains that U.S. dairies utilize pregnant cows that excrete large amounts of pregnancy hormones in their milk. These bovine hormones may contribute to hormone-dependent cancers such as breast and testicular cancer. Davaasambuu points out that not much is known about the relation between hormones in milk and cancer, so there’s no need for undue worry. But she does suggest a simple precaution: drink skim milk. The hormones in milk bind to fat, so you can avoid most of them by choosing fat-free.
For many families with children, full-fat milk is not the best choice. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children older than 2 years drink low-fat or nonfat milk and that the family choose reduced-fat dairy products for daily consumption. These choices establish good eating habits in young children, help prevent obesity and heart disease and contribute to a family culture that celebrates nutritious, whole foods and avoids junk food.
- USDA Supertracker: Food-A-Pedia
- Annals of Internal Medicine: Association of Dietary, Circulating, and Supplement Fatty Acids With Coronary Risk
- American Heart Association: The American Heart Association's Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations
- Harvard University Gazette: Hormones in Milk Can Be Dangerous
- American Academy of Pediatrics: What About Fat and Cholesterol?
- NPR: Whole Milk or Skim?
- The Cook’s Thesaurus: Milk and Cream