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Is skim milk better than whole milk for people with diabetes?

Toby Smithson
Nutrition & Dietetics

Skim milk has all of the same nutrients as whole milk but without extra fat. If whole milk is not homogenized to reduce the size of fat particles, it naturally separates into skim milk with the cream layer on top. Skim milk has the same amount of calcium, vitamin D, riboflavin, and protein as whole milk does. However, skim milk is a better dietary choice for managing diabetes because of its lower fat content making it a healthy heart choice and its lower caloric content to prevent weight gain. Skim milk has less calories, saturated fat, and cholesterol. A cup of skim milk has 12 grams of carbohydrate, 8 grams of protein, 0 grams of fat, and 128 mg of sodium.

Transitioning from whole to nonfat milk is a good place to start to assist with weight management and a healthier heart since skim milk provides all of the essential nutrients without extra calories from saturated fat. Make it a gradual process to let your taste buds adjust to a new flavor and texture by switching to 2% milk first. Another option is to begin by substituting nonfat milk in your favorite recipes, beverages, and with your cereal.

Just about every piece of dietary advice out there recommends that you consume low-fat or nonfat versions of milk, yogurt, or other dairy food. The fat in dairy foods, even reduced-fat versions, is roughly 50 to 60 percent saturated fat, which is supposed to be bad for your heart. However, a growing number of experts say this is nothing more than a mistaken interpretation of the science.

And recent research suggests that the other fats in milk and other dairy foods can be good for you. For instance, dairy fat contains lots of oleic acid (the stuff that makes olive oil so healthy), along with a type of fat called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) that may help with weight loss.

In addition, a study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health has identified a natural substance in diary fat that may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. The substance, called trans-palmitoleic acid, is a fatty acid found in milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter. Trans-palmitoleic acid may be the reason behind recent studies that show dairy-rich diets are linked to lower risk of type 2 and related metabolic conditions. In a study of 3,736 participants, higher levels of trans-palmitoleic acid were linked with healthier levels of blood cholesterol, inflammatory markers, insulin levels, and insulin sensitivity. Participants with higher levels of trans-palmitoleic acid also had about a 60 percent lower risk of developing diabetes compared with people with low levels of the fatty acid. But more research needs to be done to determine the therapeutic value of trans-palmitoleic acid.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.