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Is Low-Fat Dairy Healthy?

Is Low-Fat Dairy a Misnomer?

The American Dairy Association recommends three servings of dairy a day for stronger bones and healthy weight loss. Dairy products naturally contain many essential nutrients needed for good health such as phosphorus, potassium, and vitamins A, D and B12 just to name a few. In fact, one cup of milk provides 8 grams of protein and 300 mg of calcium.

If you’re looking for dairy to help with weight loss, you need to know what to look for on the label. To cut down on fat intake, dieters often opt for 1% or 2% milk fat products instead of their whole milk counterpart. The problem is that low-fat milk products are in fact labeled by weight and not by calories. What does that mean? You’re getting far more fat than you think.

We reviewed the nutrition facts for Horizon’s whole milk, 1% milk fat, 2% milk fat and fat free milk. Not surprisingly, each serving of whole milk provides 8 grams of fat of which 5 grams are from saturated fat. By calorie content, whole milk is 47% fat (technically whole milk is at least 3.25% milk fat). As you can see in the chart below, one serving of 2% milk fat provides 45 calories from fat or 38%. One serving of 1% milk fat provides 20 calories from fat or 20%. As with whole milk, the fat in low fat milk is from a saturated source.

Amount Per Serving

Nutrition Facts

Whole Milk
2% Milk Fat
1% Milk Fat
Fat Free
Calories 150 120 100 90
Calories from Fat 70 45 20 0
Total Fat 8g 5g 2.5g 0g
Saturated Fat 5g 3g 1.5g 0g
Trans fat 0g 0g 0g 0g
Polyunsaturated fat 0g 0g 0g 0g
Monounsaturated fat 2g 1.5g 0g 0g
Cholesterol 35mg 20mg 10mg <5mg
Sodium 125mg 125mg 125mg 130mg
Potassium 360mg 380mg 0mg 0mg
Total Carbohydrate 12g 12g 12g 12g
Dietary Fiber 0g 0g 0g 0g
Sugars 12g 12g 12g 12g
Protein 8g 8g 8g 9g
Calcium 300mg 300mg 300mg 300mg
Vitamin D 100IU 100IU 100IU 100IU

Based on 1 cup serving (240 mL)

The comparison clearly shows that fat free milk provides the best nutritional profile of the various types of milk. You get the benefits of protein, calcium and vitamin D but not the saturated fat that is associated negative health consequences.

In recent years, many Americans have become more health conscious and are exploring alternative diets which incorporate more vegetarian and vegan options. Due to this shift, a lot of milk alternative products have become more readily available today which provide many of the same essential nutrients needed for strong bones and a healthy diet but not the saturated fat.

Taste the Dream products are available in most stores and offer a variety of choices from rice and almond beverages to soy milk. Compared to 1% milk fat, rice and soy milk have about the same amount of calories. Almond milk has about half the number of calories per serving.

Both soy and almond milk have more calories from fat (35% and 50%, respectively) than 1% milk fat. At 20 calories per serving, rice milk even has a slightly higher percentage of calories from fat (17% vs. 20% for 1% milk) per serving. However, unlike 1% milk fat, the fat source for rice, soy and almond milk is either completely or predominantly from an unsaturated source. These types of unsaturated fats are associated with many health benefits unlike their saturated counterpart.

For the health and calorie conscious, almond milk might provide the best option because it is low in calories, fat (from a polyunsaturated source), sodium and carbohydrates and has zero cholesterol. Almond milk, like other milk products, provides a good source of both calcium and vitamin D. The only drawback is that almond milk only provides 1 gram of protein per serving.

Nutrition Facts 1% Milk Fat Rice Dream Soy Dream Almond Dream
Calories 100 120 100 50
Calories from Fat 20 20 35 25
Total Fat 2.5g 2.5g 4g 2.5g
Saturated Fat 1.5g 0g 0.5g 0g
Trans fat 0g 0g 0g 0g
Polyunsaturated fat 0g 0.5g 2.5g 0.5g
Monounsaturated fat 0g 1.5g 1g 1.5g
Cholesterol 10mg 0mg 0mg 0mg
Sodium 125mg 100mg 135mg 100mg
Potassium 0mg 0mg 250mg 0mg
Total Carbohydrate 12g 23g 8g 6g
Dietary Fiber 0g 0g 2g <1g
Sugars 12g 10g 4g 5g
Protein 8g 1g 7g 1g
Calcium 300mg 300mg 350mg 300mg
Vitamin D 100IU 100IU 100IU 100IU

Keep in mind that if your goal is to increase protein intake, a number of foods beside milk can be incorporated into your diet. Tofu, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, miso and eggs can be added to meals to increase the protein content of foods.

While milk is noted for its calcium, this mineral can be found in other foods. Leafy green vegetables like kale, spinach, and broccoli provide a good source of calcium. Other foods that contain calcium include fruits like oranges; beans and peas like tofu, peanuts, peas, and black beans; fish like sardines and salmon; nuts and seeds like sesame seeds and almonds.

In addition to containing calcium, foods like salmon and sardines are also a good source of vitamin D.

If you think you’re not getting enough calcium and vitamin D through food sources, then consider supplementing with a formula that includes these nutrients plus magnesium to fill the gaps in your diet.

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