Is trim milk healthier for you than full fat milk?

Angela was interviewed on TVNZ Breakfast earlier today to answer the age-old question about which type of cow's milk is best for health - is it trim or full fat that we should be choosing for health?

Let me start this off by saying that nutrition is a relatively new science and it can be very complicated, especially when trying to give a black and white answer! We’re learning more and more about nutrition all the time and as a result our messages are continually evolving, based on the latest weight of scientific evidence. When it comes to dairy, there is no exception. We also need to remember that we eat foods, not nutrients and a whole diet, rather than any one food isolation. Dairy is only one small part of a much bigger picture.

Dairy and weight loss


Back in the days when fat was feared, dairy was often cut from the diet of people who had be trying to lose weight because of its fat content. However, despite this popular belief research has shown that dairy can in fact help maintain lean mass during weight loss. When it comes to whether you should choose trim or full fat dairy, evidence suggests there is no benefit of choosing reduced fat over full fat dairy for weight loss.

However, and most importantly, I’m a firm believer that we need to move the conversation away from focusing on body weight, weight loss and the numbers on the scales. These do not define an individual nor their health status. Instead let’s focus on healthy eating behaviours and having a healthy lifestyle. When we focus on the bigger picture - such as eating mostly whole and less-processed foods, with plenty of non-starchy vege and fruit, some intact whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and other sources of healthy fats and some lean meat poultry and/or dairy if you choose - listening to our bodies and being active, the rest tends to take care of itself.

Dairy and heart health

Last year the Heart Foundation NZ released an Evidence Paper around dairy and the heart. The findings of this review showed that while the saturated fat in dairy may not be as harmful as once thought, and neutral in relation to heart health, replacing dairy fat (ie choosing reduced fat options) in favour of heart-healthy unsaturated fats is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.

You can find more information on the Heart Foundation's website here.

Which type of milk should you choose?


First and foremost both the Ministry of Health and the Heart Foundation NZ recommend that we continue choose mostly low and reduced fat dairy for our health. However, if you’re following a heart-healthy way of eating, which is relatively low in saturated fat (ie you’re getting most of your fat intake from healthy unsaturated fats eg olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado, oily fish) or you don’t drink much milk, then whether you use trim milk or whole milk is probably of less importance. Personally, I choose to drink yellow top milk, mostly because I’m not a big milk drinker and I like knowing that I’m getting extra calcium. I also prefer the taste.

Finally, milk is a nutritious whole food that contains calcium, protein, zinc, magnesium and B vitamins such as riboflavin and B12, which can be included as part of a healthy eating pattern, if you choose. If you choose not to use dairy, look for dairy alternatives that are fortified with extra calcium. In some cases you may also need to look for alternative protein sources too, as some milks (eg rice milk) are very low in protein.

View the full interview on TVNZ Breakfast:


To help you decide which milk is best for you, talk to a Registered Dietitian or contact the fantastic team at ABC Nutrition.