Poll: The Milk Debate

February 27, 2009

Last month’s poll

The results are in! If you recall, our last poll was to learn what kind of exercise we all enjoy the most. We had 59 total voters: 46% are into cardio, 22% are well-rounded individuals who get a kick from all kinds of exercise, 14% prefer stretching, yoga, or other flexibility activities, 10% like strength training the best, and 8% just don’t enjoy exercise at all. For the last group, might I suggest belly dancing? Boot camp? Aikido? Perhaps some fun fitness challenges (or a Great Fitness Experiment)? We’ll convince you that exercising is fun yet!

This month’s poll

I recently came across a great post written by Urban Nutritionist entitled The Milk Misconception. Specifically, this line caught my eye: “Low fat and skim milk make calcium unavailable because fat is necessary for the proper transportation and absorption of calcium.”

Nina Planck of the book Real Food agrees that whole milk is preferable, stating that “butterfat helps the body digest the protein, and bones require saturated fats in particular to lay down calcium” (pg 64). Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat, has a different take on the subject: she says that removing the fat from the milk does not reduce the nutrients by very much; only the fat-soluble vitamins (A and D) disappear. However, vitamin D is added back by law, and there are so many dietary sources of vitamin A (mm, carrots) that it’s not something to be too concerned about. But even if you are worried about the vitamin A, it too is often added back into the milk.

I’m going to state right now that I adore all three of these sources and really respect each of them. It is wonderful to hear each of their opinions and the reasoning behind their perspectives. It’s also a good reminder that there is a wealth of contradictory information out there in the research studies. I did some research nearly a year ago about the benefits of calcium in milk which you can read about here (and if you want to see what I thought about Planck’s book, read this post!).

I drink skim milk. I grew up drinking 1% milk but when I started to learn more about health I switched to skim. I did this because it is very easy to get in more than enough fats over the course of the day through the food that we eat, so I figured that I might as well cut back on fats where I can so that I have more of a balance between the macro nutrients (those being carbohydrates, fats, and proteins). I’ve never had a really great love for the taste of milk so I wasn’t bothered by the more watery taste of skim milk. Drinking even 1% now tastes almost too rich and creamy for me just because I’m so accustomed to the skim.

If your goal is to lose weight or if the taste of milk isn’t particularly appealing to you but you still want the benefits of the nutrients, I recommend choosing skim milk. Happy with your weight, need to add more healthy fats, or really love the creamy taste of 1% or whole milk? Then you might as well stick with your current choice. It seems to me that the nutritional benefits are virtually the same all the way through, so it’s a matter of personal preference and how much extra fats you want/need in your diet as to what milk will be right for you.

I’m interested in what you have to say about the matter! Those of you with nutrition knowledge, is the fat necessary for calcium absorption? Or could we still get the same effects by eating something high in fat along with our fat-free milk (can’t think of a snack that’s much better than all-natural peanut butter on whole wheat toast with a glass of milk on the side!)?

Why do you drink the milk that you do? For those of you who don’t drink milk, do you supplement your diet for adequate amounts of calcium? Elaborate on your views in the comments!


  1. I drink 1% but am also happy with skim. I used to drink Gold Top (that is whole milk with a thick layer of cream at the top that you shake in ….it’s a british thing) but I changed because of weight gain and trying to change my fat intake in the same way that you talk about in your post. Now I find whole milk far too heavy to drink. It sure does not take long to adjust to the new and lighter taste of 1% and I am glad for the options we have …….

  2. My milk consumption comes and goes in phases. I used to be all Skim all the time, then for a while I went off milk completely and drank mostly soy milk. Now I drink 1% or Whole. We get raw whole milk from the farmer’s market and it’s delicious! But I can’t only deal with it in small doses, such as in my tea or coffee. Like Rebecca, I find whole milk altogether too rich on its own.

  3. HI Sagan! Interesting topic you got going here today!

    I drink lactose-free milk due to hubby’s sensitivo belly. I only drink milk in tea and grew up hating milk altogether, so I never really had my own preference in milk to be honest with you. I’d just put whatever was in the fridge (never purchased by me) into my cereal or tea.

    Have a great weekend!

  4. Hi Sagan, interesting post! Here in the UK we have whole milk, semi-skimmed, and skimmed. Semi-skimmed I believe is just under 2% fat, and it tends to be what most people drink as standard.

    I used to drink skimmed and would have pints of it cold, but it became inconvenient as other people always had semi in, and switching between the two was very noticeable. So I gave in and drink semi these days, but I only tend to have it in tea or use it in cooking, or maybe porridge.

    For calcium I have at least one yoghurt a day, maybe some cheese, or dried figs, or baked beans, or tinned fish etc.

    I thought that Vitamin D was needed to absorb calcium not fat – but I’m not a nutritionist!!

  5. Turns out in Oz our regular milk is 3.2% fat. Having said that, a long time ago I heard that drinking milk isn’t actually very good for you at all. A researcher friend had done his own research based on medical data he obtained and came to this conclusion, also pointing out that humans are the only mammals that drink milk after being weaned. And that milk is from an animal with an entirely different digestive tract to ours. Also, I have heard that milk actually strips your body of calcium which was backed up by an article on realage.com.

    So in light of that, my only source of milk is in coffee and full cream froths better than the low fat. And I wouldn’t try goat’s milk in coffee either which is supposed to be a healthier alternative unless you like coffee that tastes like goat!

  6. I drink lactose-free skim milk. Lactose-free since college, and skim since as long as I can remember. It’s been so long (and probably wasn’t my choice at the time), that anything more tastes odd 🙂 I haven’t done any research on this, though it is interesting!


  8. Hi Sagan!

    I don’t drink any kind of milk, nor recommend it, except for growing children and cows.

    Even though it’s white, I consider it liquid fat.

    I once heard Marylou Henner say, after successfully losing weight, that when she stopped drinking milk, she lost that bovine look 🙂

  9. Rebecca- I love how quick the adjustment can be made! That Gold Top of yours sounds so intense.

    Monica- you’re so lucky to get it from the farmer’s market like that… bet it tastes really great.

    Rupal- I had it ingrained in me to drink a glass of milk with dinner every day. Now I sometimes have to consciously remind myself to do so!

    Jellybean- thanks for your input- I thought the same about vitamin D, but who knows what combination of nutrients is necessary to increase/block absorption! Yogurt and cheese good stuff.

    Spring Girl- I’ve heard about that too. That’ll be the day, when all of these studies actually agree with each other…

    ttfn300- our tastes get accustomed so quickly 🙂

    VeggieGirl- I. Heart. You.

    Dr. J- ooh interesting to have a doctor say this! “Liquid fat”, hmmm… what about skim milk?

  10. Skim is the drink for me. Alas, cooking usually requires something with more….actual milk. So I’ll cook with 2% or even heavy cream. Can’t make scones without heavy cream.


  11. In my household we have 2% milk, and grew up with it all the time. I personally am not a fan of milk, I drank it when I was younger from time to time, had in my cereal, but never drank the remaining milk after the cereal was consumed. I drink chocolate milk though!

    Anyways, I’m not a big fan of the taste, and really haven’t had a cup of it for a very long time. I instead resort to soy milk, almond milk, and so forth.

  12. We drink skim here. And I’m with you: I got coffee at BK’s company christmas party and added splenda (I use stevia at home, but good luck finding it in public) and their 2% milk. I didn’t need dessert after that.

  13. I grew up drinking whole milk. I think we switched to skim when I was in late high school. Then when I was in college I got allergic to milk, and started taking calcium supplements. For a while I could get goat’s milk from a farm. Oh, delicious! Herd average butterfat was 8%. Now I don’t have a source for it anymore (maybe one day I’ll get some goats of my own now I have space) and cow’s milk, which I’m not allergic to anymore, tastes thin. Incredibly thin and bland.
    When I started drinking goat’s milk is when I started putting on weight, but when I stopped the pounds didn’t stop creeping on up. Middle age has its rewards, but that’s not one of them!

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  14. I don’t really drink it, I use it more for soaking my cereal in the morning. I can’t really remember that last time I actually poured myself a glass.

  15. I don’t like milk! I have never had a glass of it plain. Well, I’ve tried, but I can’t have more than a sip before I want to gag. I have no idea why. Sometimes it’s okay in cereal, but I hate the aftertaste. If I’m having it in cereal, I do like whole milk best… but I think I might be allergic to dairy so I haven’t had any kind of dairy at all in a while. I love almond milk, and soy milk is okay sometimes (but it tends to sit funny in my stomach). My favorite kind is chocolate almond milk, unsweetened. I think part of the reason I don’t like milk might be due to the lactose – too sweet for me.

  16. I’m a skim milk drinker. It works for me! My wife hates milk and won’t go near it.

  17. Im a soysoy almondmilk and soy 🙂

  18. I drink semi-skimmed and love it, especially when also eating an apple. There is a theory publicised by a doctor called Jane Plant that dairy products, and especially milk, are a major factor in breast cancer, and several women I know who’ve had this have stopped drinking milk altogether. I looked into it after my own diagnosis but so far as I can see there is no real evidence to back up her theory and I’m happy to carry on drinking it, though I’ve come to prefer coffee black (and decaff). I find skimmed milk too watery but I guess Rebecca is right that you adjust quickly. I also envy Monica being able to get raw farmers’ market milk. When I was a child we once stayed somewhere in France where we walked to the farm each morning with an urn to collect the fresh milk and it was sensational.

  19. Skim milk!

    Miz how long did it take to acquire the taste for Soy? I have never tried it…curious.

  20. GT- I use 1% to cook with but I bet scones with heavy cream would be to die for!

    Sharon- ooh I love chocolate milk. Not so much the sugar content. But the taste is delicious.

    Tricia- a little bit of fat sure goes a long way, doesn’t it?!

    Mary Anne- I’ve never had goats milk, would love to try it though! That must have been really cool to get such fresh stuff.

    Tom- milk really makes cereal great. Ever try cereal with water or juice instead? It’s gross.

    Maggie- unsweetened chocolate almond milk? I have GOT to try that.

    Blake- seems like there’s quite a few people who feel strongly about milk!

    MizFit- haven’t gotten used to the taste of soy milk- makes my face pucker up 🙂

    Liz- that must have been a great experience, super jealous 🙂 And you’re right, apples do go really good with milk for some reason.

    Mark- I’m curious too!

  21. I used to drink organic whole milk , now that I am lactose intolerant, I drink organic rice milk. However, I still make desserts with dairy, just not for me BUMMER!

  22. I use milk on cereal occasionally, and then I either have 2% or light soy. I’m counting on cheese, yogurt, nuts and the itty bits of broccoli I eat to take up the slack.

  23. I love milk, but as I have gotten older, it doesn’t like me back!

    I can really only tolerate one glass of milk a day (no more than 8 ounces) and I am good to go.

    I tend to lean towards skim milk, but I love vanilla soy milk too.

  24. bagged

  25. we switched from 2% to 1% in our house so we drink that.

    although, for me, i typically don’t drink milk unless it has a tiny bit of coffee in it to flavor it. yep, i’m weird – i can’t stand the taste of ANY milk, whether it be whole, some% or skim. yucky. got on the coffee-milk thing when i was young and haven’t stopped since.

    (should clarify – i use maybe 1-2oz coffee in a 12oz cup and drink some out before adding more milk. it’s a flavor thing only.)

  26. I drink low fat. Is that what 1% is? In Malaysia, it’s whole, skim or low fat. But it’s whole milk all the way for baking 🙂

  27. I’m with Dr. J, I’m not a fan of milk (and that comes from me the farm girl 🙂

    Actually many of the MD’s and holistic practitioners at the nutrition conferences I attend feel the same way. While I’ve never liked milk personally, my nutrition training has solidified my feelings. I use Rice Milk.

  28. I am fighting the research urge. Why are there so many contradictory studies on almost every food and nutrient?

    Whatever, I’ll stick with my soy because it tastes good and has an ethical guilt margin a good chunk lower than regular milk. Though the guilt margin is still there, I fear.

  29. Hi Sagan!

    There is probably not too much wrong with skim milk. Once I dropped milk, I stopped all milk. I don’t like supporting the industry, and the way they treat animals, and all the chemicals they feed the cows. I even worked for a short while on a dairy farm. The cows are “pregnant machines,” and they slaughter the babies for veal. Sorry buddy, it’s really OK with me if you want to drink it, I’m not political about it, it’s just my personal choice, and I’m explaining why I made it.

  30. I love %1 or even skim milk. I’ve never thought much about whether or not its the right milk to drink… milk is good, right? I drink a lot of it. 🙂

  31. Interesting about the calcium. For me it’s either skim or soy (vanilla or choc). I use the skim for oatmeal and thinning out pancakes but use vanilla soy for coffee/tea and chocolate soy for protein shakes. Never drink it anymore though. I used to drink almost half a gallon a day of skim when I was younger! I can’t even drink 1% or higher, I can’t stand the feeling of thick fatty liquids in my throat, never have. As a kid we always had 1% or 2% but then I discovered skim at school and never went back.

  32. I used to be into drinking milk BIG TIME when I was little….but now, not so much. But every now and then it sounds SO GOOD (kind of like my relationship with steak)! When I do drink it, it’s skim or 1%.

    I DEFINITELY eat a lot of cheese and yogurt to help get my calcium intake up. Probably a bit too much. 🙂

  33. Nazarina- Can I have some of you desserts? They always look amazing!

    Cammy- ooh, cheese is so good. I have a big obsession with jalapeno cheese right now.

    Biz319- every now and then my body weirdly decides it doesn’t agree with dairy. And then it’ll be fine again. So strange. Never tried vanilla before!

    Jack- indeed?

    T- that’s so funny! I know people who need the chocolate flavor in their milk, but I’ve never heard of needing a coffee flavor. Hehe. I wonder if we’ll start seeing coffee-flavored milk on the shelves?

    Dee- yes, low fat is 1%. Whole milk really is ideal for cooking!

    Jolene- interesting. I ought to get a bunch of alternative dairy samplers to see what all these different types of “milk” are like.

    Westwood- oh the guilt is ALWAYS there 😉

    Dr. J- you’ve done all kinds of things! That’s really cool that you got to work on a dairy farm for a while. Thanks for coming back and sharing that! You gotta write a book about all the things you’ve done…

    Mary- “milk is good”- that’s what we’re told! Or sometimes, not 😉

    Nick- skim all the way!

    Holly- now I’m just thinking about how good steak tastes. I like filling up on lots of cheese too 😀

  34. When I was very young a doctor told my parents I was allergic to milk. So, I never ever drank it. As an adult, I realized I could eat wonderful foods like cheese and ice cream without any issue, but I never took to drinking milk — for some reason it seems completely nasty to me. So, I drink almond milk and occasionally soy milk. It is like “a cup of milk” doesn’t exist in my food world. 🙂

  35. Growing up – and being on or near farms – it was not uncommon to take milk straight from the cow to the refrigerator.

    Today…I drink skim milk. And we drink a lot of it. Probably about 5 gallons/week. Maybe it has something to do with me being from the Dairy state!!

  36. Actually, I hardly ever drink milk. I don’t avoid for any specific reason though. Every once in a while I might have almond milk – and I really like the taste of it much better.

  37. I haven’t seen Gold Top here in California, but we have an organic dairy that sells non-homogenized milk, both 2% and 4%, sometimes I buy the 2%, and take out a few globs of fat, mix the rest in. Other times I buy 1%, because skim is too watery, and I think there are some fat soluble vitamins I may as well get. Occasionally I’ll buy raw full fat milk, which is expensive and goes bad quickly, so maybe every few months I’ll buy it and drink it fast.

  38. Juliet- we don’t often think of milk as being an acquired taste because most of us are so used to it, but I guess it really is!

    Lance- wow, that’s a lot of milk- good for you! Bet those bones are super strong.

    Trish- I start feeling guilty when I forget to drink milk… I’m not very good at getting in an adequate amount of calcium unless I keep on top of my milk consumption.

    Julie- that all sounds deliciously rich, evidently I’m going to have to take a trip to California to experience all that dairy goodness 🙂

  39. […] World Discussions about being healthy in all aspects and enjoying life to the fullest! « Poll: The Milk Debate Book Review: “The New Rules of Lifting for Women” by Lou Schuler March 2, 2009 […]

  40. I am somewhat lactose intolerant. I can handle small amounts of dairy, but if I were to sit down and drink a glass of milk, I’d be in trouble. That being said, I buy 2% milk. I figure for the small amount that I consume (a little bit in cereal now and then), I might as well stick with what I like.

  41. I stopped drinking milk a number of years ago…now I drink soy milk. I don’t have anything against regular milk, I just prefer the taste of soy. 🙂

  42. If I drink milk, I have to drink non-fat. I can’t stand the taste of any other milk. I’m with you, I LOVE milk and peanut butter – nothing better – but usually, I’m into the Vanilla Soy milk. I almost never buy regular milk anymore. 🙂

    Interesting post!

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