What to Know About Skim Milk

Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on July 10, 2023
3 min read

There are so many kinds of milk on store shelves, it can be hard to choose. Here’s what to know about skim milk.

Cow’s milk is usually labeled according to its fat content. You’re probably familiar with the basic types:

  • Whole milk, also labeled as full-fat milk or vitamin D milk. This has a fat content of at least 3.25%. No fat is removed from the milk during processing.
  • Reduced-fat milk, also labeled as 2% milk. This has about 2% fat. Some has been removed, but it still has some of the creaminess and flavor of whole milk.
  • Skim milk, also labeled as nonfat milk. The milk fat is removed so it’s fat-free. Skim milk is not creamy.

Experts have long debated whether the fat in milk is healthy. In the past, it was thought that foods that are higher in fat were bad. But newer research shows that it’s the kind of fat that matters, more than the amount.

In fact, recent studies show that higher fat intake from dairy and other sources is linked to lower risks of stroke, death not related to cardiovascular disease, and death from any cause.

Skim milk became popular in the U.S. in the 1980s, when people began paying more attention to the amount of fat in their diets. Many thought that the more fat you ate, the more fat your body would store, making you gain weight.

Nonfat milk has become a popular choice because it is lower in fat and calories than whole milk. Whole milk has a bad reputation because it has more saturated fat and may raise cholesterol.

There are two kinds of cholesterol: LDL, the “bad” cholesterol, and HDL, the “good” cholesterol. When you drink whole milk, your LDL goes up more than if you drank skim milk. But the saturated fats in whole milk and dairy products also raise your levels of HDL.

Experts recommend your intake of saturated fat should be limited to less than 10% of calories per day by replacing them with unsaturated fats, particularly polyunsaturated fats. For a 2,000 calorie diet, that should be less than 200 calories or less than 22 grams of saturated fat daily. This is why many people avoid whole milk and opt for skim. Also, the fats in whole milk aren’t the healthy fats that are in products like:

  • Nuts
  • Oily fish
  • Avocado
  • Olives
  • Olive oil

Skim milk may be a better choice if you’re watching your saturated fat intake.

Both skim milk and whole milk offer the same vitamins and minerals. They have vitamins A and D, but these nutrients are added back into skim milk because they are lost when the milk fat is removed. Whole milk is often fortified with extra vitamin D.

Both kinds are good sources of calcium, an essential mineral for the health of your bones and teeth. It may prevent conditions like osteoporosis.

Skim milk and whole milk are also good sources of potassium, which can lower your blood pressure. Milk is a good source of protein, too. One of the benefits of skim milk is that you can get a good amount of protein from just one glass with no added fat.

There are several things to consider when drinking skim milk.

Skim milk has no fat. But research in pigs going back to the 1930s found that feeding skim milk to pigs helped them quickly gain weight. Farmers still feed pigs skim milk for this reason. 

Some researchers suggest that cow’s milk isn’t meant for human consumption. One of the benefits of skim milk is the amount of protein per serving, but it’s important to note that cow milk has three times the protein per serving that human milk does. This could contribute to metabolic changes in your body.

Babies and toddlers are thought to benefit from the fat and protein in whole milk more than adults. Because they grow and develop so quickly, their bodies need the saturated fats found in whole milk. Adults might get the same benefits simply by drinking reduced-fat or nonfat milk.

Research suggests that if you drink skim milk, organic is best. It comes from grass-fed cows. Their milk is richer in nutrients and has more omega-3 fatty acids.