Skim Milk vs. 2% Milk

While speaking to patients at Mon General Hospital this week, and giving them the nutrition education that was ordered by their doctor, I came across the same comment made by three separate patients that I had never heard before. When talking about a low-fat diet with patients, all three patients mentioned that they drink 2% or whole milk, because they heard from Dr. Oz that skim milk is bad for you. They weren’t able to say exactly why– I got “I think it has more sodium/sugar” but I told them that skim milk is actually a great choice because it has the same amount of protein as 2% or whole milk, but without all the fat! And a low-fat diet is going to be good for the heart; especially since a lot of these patients just had a CABG (coronary artery bypass grafting surgery), angioplasty & stent placement, or a NSTEMI (heart attack).  Let’s clear out the plaque and cholesterol that’s hardening your arteries and causing these blockages…switch to skim!

So when a 3rd patient mentioned today that they used to drink skim milk, but then switched to 2% because of good ol’ Dr. Oz, I knew I wanted to do some research into what he said, and then lay the facts out concerning the different nutrient profiles of different milks.  After some searching, I came across a TV clip on The Talk where Dr. Oz mentions his opinion on skim milk (the youtube video has since been removed, but his quote is below).

“Don’t drink skim milk, you don’t need to. When you take the fat out of milk, what’s left? Sugar! Skim milk is sugar milk. You want to drink 2% milk, eat 2% yogurt…people who have a little bit of fat in the yogurt lose more weight, because your body is satiated.” – Dr. Oz

Ok. First off, when you take the fat out of milk, what’s left is more than just “sugar”. Take a look:

1 cup whole milk:

  • 150 calories
  • 8g fat
  • 5g saturated fat
  • 35mg cholesterol
  • 8g protein
  • 12g carbohydrates
  • 12g sugar

1 cup 2% milk:

  • 130 calories
  • 5g fat
  • 3g saturated fat
  • 20mg cholesterol
  • 8g protein
  • 12g carbohydrates
  • 12g sugar

1 cup skim milk:

  • 80 calories
  • 0g fat
  • 0g saturated fat
  • <5g cholesterol
  • 8g protein
  • 12g carbohydrates
  • 12g sugar

So, what really happens when you take the fat out of milk? You end up with a milk that has the same amount of carbohydrates and sugars (12g), and you end up with a milk that has the same amount of protein (8g).  What also happens is that by switching to skim milk, you’ve just saved yourself 50-70 calories, 15-30mg cholesterol, 5-8g of fat, and 3-5g of saturated fats, depending on whether you switched from 2% or whole milk.

As far as the macronutrient composition of milk, 60% of the calories from skim milk comes from sugar, and 37% of the calories from 2% milk comes from sugar.  So I’m thinking that was the angle that Dr. Oz was taking when he was saying that skim milk is just “sugar milk.”  Yes skim milk does contain a higher percentage of calories from sugars than 2% or whole, but skim has the same number of grams of sugar that whole milk has.

His little blurb about fat making you satiated has some truth to it. When you eat a high-fat meal, you feel satiated, or full, because when fat reaches the duodenum (small intestine- the only place where fat is absorbed), CCK is released, which slows gastric emptying, meaning your stomach stays “fuller” longer than if you had a fat-free meal.   I think that Dr. Oz is trying to get at the idea that if someone drinks a glass of 2% milk, they’ll feel satiated. But if someone drinks a glass of skim milk, they’ll still be hungry, so they’ll start raiding their fridge and consequently gain weight that the people who drank 2% are not gaining. But that just means that people are gaining weight from the extra food they are eating, not gaining weight from drinking a glass of skim milk rather than 2%.

But I’m assuming that when people drink milk, whether it’s skim, 1%, 2%, or whole milk, they’re drinking it with a meal, or a plate of cookies. The average American is getting enough fat (make that more than enough fat) in their diet, so switching to skim milk isn’t going to make them feel starved– they’re already feeling satiated from the fat from their dinner of hamburger helper, steak, pizza, pasta, or those 3 chocolate chip cookies they just scarfed down with that glass of milk.  See what I’m saying?

So in conclusion, if you’re ordered by your doctor to be on a heart-healthy diet, a low-fat diet, or you’re just looking to decrease the amount of fat in your diet, making the switch to skim milk is a great idea. Skim milk is fat free and contains 8g of protein per cup and just 12g of carbohydrates/sugar (1 carb choice). It is not “sugar milk”– all cow’s milk contain the same amount of sugar per cup.  If you’re really concerned about your carbohydrate intake (ie: if you’re diabetic), then you might want to try soy milk, as the unsweetened variety has just 4-5g of carbohydrates instead of 12g.  So 8oz of soy milk has less carbohydrate/sugar, has 80-90 calories, 0mg cholesterol, has just 0.5g saturated fat, and contains about the same amount of protein as cow’s milk (7-9g). However, soy milk does have 4-4.5g of fat per serving, which is comparable to the fat content in 2% milk.  So again, if you’re watching your fat intake and keeping an eye on your heart health, you might want to just stick to skim rather than 1%, 2%, whole, or soy milk.

Even Batman agrees– fat free milk is best!

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26 thoughts on “Skim Milk vs. 2% Milk

  1. Debbie Todhunter

    Great column! I had to laugh when you got to the part of what one is eating WITH one’s glass of skim milk….the three chocolate chip cookies….you know me!

  2. Reblogged this on Mary Rodavich – WVU Dietetic Intern and commented:
    Yet another very informative post by Emily!

  3. Heidi Muszynski

    Pinned!!! 🙂

  4. Ian Stoddard

    See this is good stuff! It was very informative and interesting. Dr. Oz is messing with the public now. Next someone will be saying their thyroid is the cause of their obesity :)-

  5. A. Minard

    Excellent summary! I’m a registered dietitian in Ohio and was looking online for information to write just such a summary of his misleading words. Yours is perfect. While you are very diplomatic in your approach, I think he, with his incorrect information, is a danger to a society that hangs on his every word. I personally believe he should have his license revoked. Keep up the good work and best of luck with your internship.

    • Thank you so much for your comment! I was trying to be a little objective…but it is insane the things he suggests to his viewers, and like you said, people tend to hang on to his every word, which can be very dangerous.

    • C. B.

      A. Minard, what is your opinion on whole milk? I am trying to make some major adjustments in our families diet and I have been researching the whole milk vs. skim milk thing. I have been giving my kids skim for years (thinking it is better) I am really second guessing that decision.

  6. I think I may have very picky taste buds, because skim milk always tastes gross for me. My mom has had it in the past with no problem, but whenever I try to drink it (or have it with cereal) I just gag. Skim for me just tastes like water, if there were a way to get it to taste better then I’d be on board with drinking it! So far the lowest I’ve gone with milk is 1%, and someday in the future I’ll have to see what 1/2% milk tastes like. I have GERD and looking up low acid foods skim milk was on there, which I of course gagged thinking about it.

    Great column though! I just wanted to throw my two cents in about skim milk, I think I just have very picky taste buds.

    • 1% is still a good choice. Also, have you tried “superskim” milk before? It is skim milk, but with some added thickening agents (such as carrageenan) to make it have the mouth-feel of 2% milk. It may be worth a try!

    • TA

      Try mixing 1/2 skim & 1/2 2% together…you get twice as much & it tastes better.

  7. Wade

    I’d personally limit dairy intake to as little as possible. There’s no proof it helps bone health and its quite possible it could increase your risk of some cancers. My source is *directly* from the Harvard University website (not some vegan blog). Also, do some weights and eat green leafy veggies.

    • I agree with you that there are many clinical, peer-reivewed studies that conclude there is no relationship between dairy/calcium intake and measures of bone health. It is an interesting area to study further, for sure!

  8. Becky Cummins

    I really appreciate your comments about skim vs 2% milk, and I agree with you, especially about our own responsibility for the things we eat with our milk! The only issue you didn’t address, that I have heard to support Dr. Oz’ comment, is that the fat in the 2% milk binds with the sugars, which are then less likely to be stored as fat. Any truth in that argument? Becky

  9. Stephanie Irwin

    I find it a bit odd that these heart patients had heart disease and were drinking skim milk. It wasnt until they were in the hospital that they decided to drink whole milk. Makes you wonder why the skim milk didn’t work in preventing thier illness. I’m sure I know what the dairy indrustry’s reply would be, blame it on coconuts, avacados and other healthy fats. Or McSuperzizing everything.Funny how it’s always someone elses fault.

    • There is no 1 single factor that causes heart attacks or CHD. I don’t think anyone would argue with that, and no one is saying “skim milk prevents heart attacks”. However it has been shown that a high saturated fat diet increases LDL cholesterol, which has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease. Cutting down on saturated fat (<7% of calories daily) is a smart move for anyone to make, especially since heart disease is the #1 killer of men and women in America. (and this could be another blog post, but coconut oil is not a healthy fat…)

  10. Jody

    Good Job Emily! You are going to make a fabulous RD!

  11. Frances

    I did not encourage my children to drink “cow’s milk” when they were children. Cow’s milk is for calves, not humans. Just like breast milk is the optimum for babies, cow’s milk is made for calves.

    I understood the need for calcium, just made sure they received it from other, healthier alternatives.

    With so many things that so called experts pontificate, people figure if milk is good,more milk is better. A recent Harvard study (I know yours is a old article. More than 2 glasses a milk is more harmful, than healthier.

    How many people have very uncomfortable from consuming dairy products.

    My children now have children. My grandchildren drink no milk, they do like cheese though. My kids learned that a proper, well-balanced diet, is much healthier for their children than milk that is meant for calves.

    • I tend to disagree with you (on several points), but if for whatever reason you are against drinking cow’s milk, then soy milk is a great alternative I hope you are taking advantage of!

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  13. Kelly

    Thanks Emily for clearing up the view on 2% versus skim. I, too, had started buying 2% after hearing Dr. Oz (he’s very convincing with his healthy, good looking image) and my son, who is a aspiring personal trainer, told me to look at the labels. I, of course, told him Dr. Oz is an “expert”. He would not steer a whole country down the wrong path. He’s knows what he’s talking about. After all, he’s is a top leading MD. If he said it, I believe it…… until I looked at the labels. Hey, wait a minute. This milk has the exact same sugars. I felt duped. How could I have “blindly” listened to Dr Oz without checking the labels? And how could Dr Oz have not checked the labels? Well, lesson learned. I will not blindly believe everything I hear from a “leading” expert. We’re back to drinking skim.

  14. Jennifer

    I am an RD too and I totally agree with your article. I teach a lot of diabetics and already knew that Dr. Oz was wrong here along with many other things he talks about. I am yet to believe that drinking low-fat milk/dairy products is harmful in correct amounts, haven’t there been many studies on low fat dairy/milk intake and weight management or those people tending to be of a more healthy weight?

  15. Jennifer

    Oh and check out Today’s Dietitian article March 2013 Vol. 15, No. 3. Milk Proteins-promote satiety, weight maintenance and glucose control.

  16. Great article, you completely cleared this up for me. Someone said to me this weekend that ALL fat-free diary products contain more sugar than full fat/2%, so thanks for proving them wrong 🙂

  17. Sharon

    It certainly seems that they should have the same amount of sugar, but a quick scan of the milk aisle led me to question this assumption. Why does the nutrition information on my Sunnyside Farms Organic 1% Milk show 15g sugar / cup, vs. only 11g / cup for the whole milk? The same pattern holds true for Clover Organic. What is going on?

    • Great question! I took a look at the Clover nutrition facts and ingredients on their website ( and and it looks like Clover adds nonfat dry milk to their 1% milk.

      So naturally, if you or I or a food and beverage company adds nonfat dry milk powder in with any type of milk, its going to raise the carbohydrate and protein content. You can see by adding the nonfat dry milk to the 1% Clover milk, they add 3g of carbs, 3g of protein, as well as a bit more calcium and other minerals and vitamins.

      My best guess is that Clover (and probably Sunnyside Farms) adds nonfat dry milk to their low-fat milks, in order to create a thicker, creamier “mouth-feel”.

      I’ve recommended to some patients that have poor oral intake and high protein needs to add nonfat dry milk powder to skim milk in order to increase the protein content, but I wasn’t aware some companies already did this (even if for a totally different, or seemingly unknown reason).

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