By Laura Hardie
Which is better, whole milk or skim?
An increasing number of people are choosing full-fat dairy, both nationally and in Vermont, according to retail data from IRi, a market research firm. The trend is related to the growing desire for simple, natural, and whole foods—plus recent research that indicates full-fat dairy may have a solid place in a healthy diet.
According to IRi, whole milk sales at retail stores nationally were up 6 percent in 2016 compared to the prior year, and have been growing at an increasing rate for the past three years.
The rate of annual growth in whole milk sales is even stronger in Vermont—up nearly 12 percent in 2016. The growth of whole milk sales may also be driving new consumers to purchase milk: total milk sales overall were up nearly 3 percent in Vermont last year, bucking the national downward trend.
That’s good news for Vermont dairy farmers. According to the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, 12 percent of Vermont’s 7,338 farms in 2012 were dairy farms, but their impact on Vermont’s agriculture is much greater. Roughly 80 percent of Vermont’s farmland is devoted to supporting milk production, as farmers use their land to grow corn as grain and silage, and to grow grass for pasturing.
Dietary Guidelines and New Research
Traditionally, low-fat dairy has been recommended by national bodies, like the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the American Heart Association, as the best option primarily because full-fat dairy products contain more saturated fat than low-fat dairy products. The long-held belief is that dietary saturated fat is directly linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) (i.e., high cholesterol, heart disease, and stroke). While this guidance has been pretty consistent, new research on full-fat dairy products is evolving.
A growing body of research is showing that consumption of dairy foods, regardless of fat content, are linked to either a reduced or neutral risk of CVD, and a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and blood pressure in adults. The correlation also exists for improved bone health, especially in children and teens.
Additionally, some reports also indicate that full-fat dairy can help in maintaining a healthy weight because the higher fat content of full-fat dairy products take longer for the body to digest, thereby prolonging the onset of hunger. Since the higher fat content means more calories, those trying to lose weight should be mindful of portion sizes.
Overall, whole milk dairy foods can be part of the health-promoting eating styles advised by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Regardless of fat content, fluid milk is minimally processed. Fluid milk is pasteurized and contains just three ingredients: milk, vitamin A, and vitamin D. Milk travels from the farm to store shelves in just 48 hours, which means that milk is a local food and purchasing it means supporting a local dairy farmer.
-Laura Hardie is a seventh-generation Vermonter from Waterbury and works as a public relations and communications specialist for the New England Dairy Promotion Board.