Whole-Fat Vs Fat-Free Milk: Which One Is Better For You?

When deciding on a beverage that has health value, it's hard to go wrong with milk. Full of vitamin D, calcium, omega-3s, and protein, according to Healthline, one cup of milk makes a great snack or addition to any meal.

But on grocery shelves, milk comes in several forms — whole milk, reduced-fat, and skim — so which is the right choice? It might not be what you think.

Since the 1980s, consumers have been warned away from drinking whole-fat milk, according to Harvard Health Publishing. The idea was that the fat-free option provided all the vitamin and mineral benefits without the drawback of saturated fat. But more recent research shows that dairy products, even full-fat ones, actually protect against cardiovascular disease, stroke, and premature death, according to TIME.

A study published in the journal The Lancet, conducted by the Population Health Research Institute in Canada, found that the recommended three servings of dairy per day resulted in lower rates of death from cardiovascular causes among the study group.

It's all about a balanced diet

"Focusing on low-fat is predominantly based on the assumption that saturated fat increases LDL cholesterol," study author Mahshid Dehghan told TIME. "But dairy contains many other components [which may be healthy] — amino acids, vitamin K, calcium, magnesium. They can be fermented and have probiotics. We should not focus on a single nutrient."

That being said, there is one nutrient that comes in significantly different amounts based on the amount of fat. Milk contains omega-3 fatty acids, which have been associated with heart and brain health, as well as a reduced risk of cancers, according to Healthline. Fat-free milk comes with 2.5 milligrams of omega-3s, compared to 183 mg in whole milk. The full-fat version is the clear winner here.

Milk does contain saturated fat and it is wise to regulate how much saturated fat you consume daily. For a 2,000 calorie diet, the recommendation is to limit saturated fat to 20 grams per day, according to Harvard Health Publishing. One cup of whole milk contains about 8 grams of fat, of which about 4.5 grams is saturated fat. So, monitoring your whole milk consumption as part of your overall diet is wise.