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Milk - Low Fat vs. Whole Milk


Updated June 19, 2014

Young child drinking large glass of milk
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Case For Whole Milk

Whole milk is a good option for toddlers over age 12 months who aren't breastfeeding and who aren't drinking a toddler formula. According to the AAP, in their Guide To Your Child's Nutrition, these 'young children need calories from fat for growth and brain development,' and 'this is especially important in the first 2 years of life.'

The only other real benefit of whole milk over low fat milk is that many people do think it tastes better, so for kids who don't get used to low-fat milk and simply refuse to drink it, whole milk may be the only way that they will drink any milk at all.

Whole milk might also be better if you have a very picky eater who is not overweight and is simply not getting enough fat and calories from the rest of his diet. You don't want all of your child's calories to come from milk though, so talk to your pediatrician and/or a Registered Dietician if you feel like you are in this situation.

Case For Low Fat Milk

Although the AAP touts the benefits of whole milk for younger toddlers, they do say that 'after age 2, you can switch your toddler to skim or low-fat milk, like the rest of the family.'

Is the difference between whole milk and low-fat milk really make that much of a difference?

A quick comparison of milk nutrition labels (per 8 ounce serving) shows that it really does:

  • Whole Milk - 150 Calories - 8g Fat
  • 2% Milk - 120 Calories - 4.5g Fat (Reduced fat milk)
  • 1% Milk - 100 Calories - 2.5g Fat (Low-fat milk)
  • Skim Milk - 80 Calories - 0g Fat (Nonfat milk)
So if your 5-year-old goes from Whole Milk to 1% Milk and typically drinks 3 cups of milk a day, he would save 150 calories a day. Although that doesn't sound like much, since you gain about a pound for every 3,500 calories you consume, those extra 150 calories might cost you an extra pound in body weight every 3 weeks or so (150 calories/day x 23 days = 3450 calories = 1 pound).


So what should you do? According to the AAP recommendations, if your toddler isn't going to continue breastfeeding, you should switch her to whole milk once she is 12 months old. Next, switch to skim or low-fat milk at age 2 years.

Making the switch at an early age is much easier than doing it when your child is older, when they are more likely to notice and be resistant to switching to low fat milk. Still, even with your younger child, you can make a gradual switch, going first to 2% Milk and than later switching again, this time to 1% Milk or Skim Milk.

An early switch to low fat milk also helps to ensure healthy habits for the rest of your child's life, as he will be more likely to continue to drink low fat milk as a teen and adult, instead of higher fat and calorie Whole Milk.

Remember that soy milk and rice milk is typically low fat, so would also be a good choice once your child is 2 years old, especially if he is allergic to cow's milk or has a lactose intolerance.

See our guide to Calcium Requirements for a good idea of how much milk and calcium your kids need each day.

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