Whether we're topping off our cereal bowl, adding it to our morning coffee, or drinking it straight from a glass, we all have our preferences when it comes to the types of milk that we drink. And in today's market the old-fashioned cow's milk is now joined by a variety of other options such as soy, almond, rice and coconut. Yet despite the plethora of options, most of us don't spend more than a few seconds deciding which carton to grab.
When it comes to weighing the health benefits between the different options, there are many avenues to consider. For fat-free milk, the lower fat and thus caloric content makes it an ideal option for those looking to lower their daily intake. And with other differences being minimal, fat-free milk remains a healthy option for that morning cereal and coffee.
Most commercial milk products undergo processing before you buy it at the store. The three primary steps include pasteurization, homogenization and fortification. These steps destroy harmful microorganisms, prolong shelf life, create a smooth texture and increase milk's overall nutritional value. While whole milk, which is about 3.25% fat, does not tend to undergo additional processing, reduced-fat milk (2% fat), low-fat milk (1% fat) and fat-free or skim milk (0% fat) undergo some processing to remove extra fat from the original cream. This reduction in fat results in an equal reduction in calories. While one cup of whole milk contains about 150 calories, one cup of its fat-free counterpart contains about 90 calories.
Regardless of differing fat content, a cup of any cow's milk is packed with approximately 8 grams of protein, 12 grams of carbohydrates and 300 milligrams of calcium. Milk is also dense in many other vitamins and minerals, including potassium, phosphorous and B vitamins. Additionally, milk is typically fortified with vitamin D, making it one of the few good food sources of the vitamin.
When low-fat and fat-free varieties of milk are made, the cream from whole milk is skimmed out. Unfortunately, removing the fat also removes the fat-soluble vitamins D, A, E and K. As a result, reduced-fat varieties contain lower amounts of many nutrients. However, fortification ensures that lower-fat milks are nutritionally very similar to whole milk and can remain a significant source of vitamins in the diet. Vitamin D is added to most milk, which helps to facilitate the absorption of calcium. Additionally, Vitamin A is usually added to fat-free milks, which promotes normal vision among other benefits.
Overall, each variety of milk offers different pros and cons. Finding the right one for you will boil down to taste preferences, as well as what you're looking to get out of your milk. For those desiring to reduce their total fat and caloric intake, fat-free milk is a sensible option for a healthy and nutritious source of dairy.
Sarah Dreifke is a freelance writer based in DeKalb, IL with a passion for nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease. She holds a Bachelor of Science in both Dietetics and Life Sciences Communication from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Currently, she is working towards a combined Master's Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics as well as a dietetic internship at Northern Illinois University.