Milk Percentages – What’s the Difference?

Milk Fat Percentages Infographic

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Why kind of milk do you buy? Why?

As a registered dietitian, I get to meet with clients and talk about their eating habits. When it comes to milk, some drink skim because they want to lose weight and are cutting calories any place they can. Others are unwilling to give up the taste of whole milk or want to continue to drink what their family always had. Many find themselves in the 1% range trying to balance taste with calories.

Food choices are personal and all the examples listed above of valid reasons for making your personal choice. However, for those fence sitters, it might be nice to know the difference, and the difference might be surprising!

Below is a chart with nutrition facts about the different percentages of milk. It might surprise you to know that whole milk is actually only 3.25% milk fat and 150 calories (less than a can of soda). Look at the different nutrient levels. They are pretty similar in many cases.

The Numbers (per 8oz serving):

Fat Percentage Fat Free/Skim – 0% Low Fat 1% Reduced Fat 2% Whole 3.25%
Calories 91 105 125 150
Total Fat 0.61 2.3 4.7 8
Protein (g) 8.75 8.5 8.5 7.7
Carbohydrates (g) 12 12 12 12
Calcium (mg) 316 314 314 276
Vitmin D (IU) 120 98 98 124
Potassium (mg) 419 397 397 322
Cholesterol (mg) 5 10 20 24

Overall skim milk tends to have slightly higher potassium, calcium, and protein. These higher amounts are because the higher fat in 1%, 2%, and whole milk displaces the nutrients in an 8 oz. volume.  Whole milk is lower in those nutrients, but higher in fat, which is also a important nutrient. In the past we (health professionals) have turned people away from fat, however emerging research is showing possible benefits to dairy fat.

I used to buy skim milk because it was the lowest in fat and calories, but I didn’t love the flavor. Then when I realized 1% was only 15 more calories, I switched. Occasionally, I opt for the rich flavor of whole milk, and I have a colleague who is a dietitian who has made the complete switch to whole milk. No matter which you chose to drink, rest assured that you are getting a high quality nutritious product, so drink up!

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