Is Whole Milk Actually Good For You? What To Consider

You might remember the "Got Milk?" campaign in 1993, which featured many celebrities and athletes with a milk mustache. Even though some people can't drink milk because they're lactose intolerant, others forgo milk and other dairy products because they've been misinformed. No, dairy doesn't cause acne or weight gain (via Rocky Mountain Health Plans).

Yet dairy, whether it's from milk, cheese, or yogurt, is a good way of getting calcium, vitamin D, and protein. A cup of skim milk gives you almost 300 milligrams of calcium, 2.7 micrograms of vitamin D, and 8 grams of protein. But what about whole milk? You'll get those same nutrients in a cup of whole milk, but whole milk also has about 8 grams of fat and almost 70 more calories than that same glass of skim milk. Four of those fat grams in whole milk are saturated fat, which might make you reach for a gallon of skim or 2% milk to reduce your risk of heart disease. 

However, the saturated fat in whole milk might not have as much of an effect on your heart as previously believed — and whole milk might actually help you manage your weight and reduce your risk for some chronic diseases.

Saturated fat from whole milk might not be linked to heart disease

A 2021 study in the Journal of the American Heart Association looked at how different types of dietary fats are related to the risk of heart disease. The researchers didn't find strong links between total fats or fat types (like saturated, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated fats) and heart disease. However, when they looked at where these fats come from, they found that eating more saturated fats from yogurt, cheese, and fish was linked to a lower risk of heart disease. On the other hand, getting saturated fats from red meat and butter was associated with a higher risk of heart disease. This suggests that it's not just the type of fat that matters, but also where it comes from in your diet.

This doesn't mean you should drink whole milk if you already have heart disease or high cholesterol, according to Healthline. A glass of whole milk has about 30 milligrams of cholesterol, compared to the 207 milligrams found in an egg. However, although saturated fat can increase your LDL (unhealthy) cholesterol levels, it also increases your healthier HDL levels. Saturated fat also changes the type of LDL cholesterol particles, making them less harmful to the body.

Whole milk might help with weight loss and metabolic syndrome

Even though whole milk has more calories than skim milk, that might not necessarily lead to weight gain. A 2016 article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women who consumed more total dairy tended to gain less weight over time. Specifically, those who ate more high-fat dairy products gained less weight, while low-fat dairy intake didn't show the same effect. In other words, eating more high-fat dairy like whole milk or cheese was associated with less weight gain, and it might help reduce the risk of obesity.

Metabolic syndrome puts you at higher risk for chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It's typically characterized by high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and belly fat (via Mayo Clinic). A 2018 meta-analysis in The British Journal of Nutrition looked at how dairy might influence metabolic syndrome. The study found that people who ate more dairy, like milk and yogurt, tended to have a lower risk of metabolic syndrome and its components, like high blood sugar and high blood pressure. For example, having a serving of milk each day was linked to a 12% lower risk of abdominal fat, and having yogurt each day was linked to a 16% lower risk of high blood sugar.