Whole Milk vs. Low Fat Milk

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Related page: Moving From Formula To Whole Milk

Oct 2001

I would like to take a kind of survey - my mother-in-law insists that kids need WHOLE milk until they are 5 years old - they need the fat, and I have heard from friends and doctors that 2% is fine after 2 years. Anyone know of any reports that I can show her. And how important is whole milk up until age 2? What are your feelings. I've looked at the newsletter suggested websites before, but there is no specific info. Thanks

What I am wondering is why not have whole milk until they are 5...or even beyond? Daryl

My pediatrician told me to use whole milk for the added calories needed. He didn't suggest any specific age to stop. He told me to use whatever the family was comfortable with. Some people don't like the taste of milk. As long as they are halthy and they are continuing to growth in a normal curve, it doesn't matter. My son had no problem going from breast milk to cow's milk so this was never an issue. My daughter went from breastmilk to Carnation formula at nine months because the doctor didn't want her starting on milk just yet (she was a preemie and he was worried about a possible reaction). By the time she started drinking cow's milk (which she never had a problem with either), we had finally switched to 2%. It took my family a long time to do this because we all liked the taste of milk. We drink 2% exclusively now, but can't switch to 1% (too salty - they add salt for flavor) or nonfat (no taste at all, like a white crayon dipped in water). We could get our calcium from cheese or other dairy products, but we drink milk because we enjoy it. It really is whatever you and your family are comfortable with. As long as there are no health issues, give them what you want to give them. It's just a matter of calories and taste. The bottom line is they are your kids and you will do what you think is best. Marianne

Our pediatrician told us to give whole milk until age 2, 2% until age 5, 1% or nonfat after that. The fat is definitely important to neurological development, but there is evidence that fat build-ups in the arteries that may, eventually, lead to problems much later in life can show up as early as 2 years of age in babies whose family history leads to a very strong genetic risk for heart disease. So just be sensible about fat intake -- dont go overboard with restrictions, but don't allow unrestricted access, either. -- Lauren

As a pediatric nurse of many years, I was always taught that children should have whole milk until they were 5 years old. But THAT was in the olden days. Now it seems our children have more fat, and calories in their diets, so 2% is fine after 2 years, as long as they are staying on their growth percentile.

our pediatrician was very clear that switching to 2% milk at age 2 was beneficial, and our daughter accepted this without fuss ... we did some blending for a few weeks till she was used to it. When our parents raised us, the words high cholesterol were not in anyone's vocabulary ... but there is current awareness that keeping kids on high fat diets can lead to an early start on occluded arteries, etc. Ben

Whole milk is recommended for children up to 2 years of age. It is crucial for growth and proper development. I work in the Food Service Department at Children's Hospital, and I also am a graduate student of nutrition. Tw

I don't know of any reports that I can tell you about, but our toddler's doctor recommended 2% milk after she turned 1. He says that toddlers don't need the same amount of fat as infants. He says it's much healthier for them to drink 2% or even nonfat after they turn 2 and that milk intake should be limited no more than 16 ozs. She's been drinking lower fat milk since her first birthday and it hasn't affected her growth rate. karyn

I don't see the rationale behind recommending low-fat milk or any other kind of low-fat food for babies and young children. If anything, you want to increase their fat - the most recent studies I've seen in my Science Week indicate that fat is involved in brain development, even up to kindergarten age as I recall.

Dec 1999

Our one year old daughter is weening herself from mom's breast milk, and we are starting to introduce her to cow's milk. My wife and I disagree on the fat content that is best for our daughter. I have heard that fat helps in the development of the brain and other systems, and my wife is worried about having an obese child. We are both slim, and our daughter is about 50th percentile in weight. Should we use whole milk or reduced fat?

This is a question you really should be asking your pediatrician. I am fairly confident that s/he will recommend whole milk for a child of that age. A child in the 50% weight percentile is unlikely to be in any immediate danger of obesity, and it seems counterproductive to be worrying about obesity in the absence of any actual problem. Babies (and children and adults) need a certain amount of fat for good health and proper development. But ask your doctor.

Re: lowfat or full fat milk: Please give your daughter whole milk. Infants can absolutely use the normal fat content in it and the lowfat versions, although convenient for adults watching their weight, are not the whole food product. Milk has a healthy proportion of fat, protein and carbohydrate just as is. You may also want to buy organic milk or at least the brands that don't have growth hormone in them: both Clover Stornetta and Trader Joe's claim to be bovine growth hormone free.

A baby should be given whole milk until at least 2 years old. If your wife is worried about your ONE YEAR OLD becoming obese, I think the problem is most decidedly your wife's. She obviously has food issues that could be damaging if passed on to your daughter. Would your wife feel the same way if you had a son? Probably not. It's heartbreaking to think that your wife is already concerned about making your sweet, innocent baby conform to the unrealistic, sexualized standards placed on a woman's body in this society.

Please don't give your 1-year old lowfat milk! Your wife is wrong and you are right that kids need the fat for brain development, etc. It's essential. You can start her on lowfat or nonfat milk when she's 2, but not before! Here's a quote from the Web site BabyCenter http://www.babycenter.com/refcap/9147.html After your child is 1 year old, you can start giving her whole milk to drink (no low- or nonfat milk until she's 2, though). Here's a quote from the health site My Life Path http://www.mylifepath.com/topic/primer/skinnykids#0 (A caution for parents with infants: Fat is a critical nutrient for brain development in the first two years of life, so infants should never been placed on a fat-restricted diet. Breast milk is very high in fat, as is infant formula. It's important never to substitute low-fat or skim milk in the first two years of life.) Ask your doctor -- he or she will tell you the same thing. If your wife is worried about obesity, she should focus on limiting the junk food, avoid taking your child to fast-food places, offer healthy snacks, and limit the juice. Don't use juice boxes. It just fills her up on empty calories. If you must give juice, dilute it by half. Don't let her get accustomed to full-on juice. And of course encourage your daughter to run around and be active.

In many cultures, healthy children are raised without any other milk than mothers' breast milk. Soy milk is another option.

From my reading and study, the body recognizes best the real thing which is whole, unpasteurized, unhomogenized milk (Clarevale's is sold at Wild Oats and Whole Foods now). Mother's milk is quite high in fat for the very reason you state: development of the the brain. Plus so may minerals (like calcium) need fat to be absorbed. For more reading on this topic, see Sally Fallon's fantastically informative book, NOURISHING TRADITIONS. She writes compellingly about the body's effective metabolism of unadulterated animal fats as compared to the vegetable oils that proliferate in the standard american diet (S.A.D.) today, leading to/causing many chronic illnesses (including obesity). She also offers a really fine non-allergenic alternative to mother's milk. You might also find pediatrician Lendon Smith's FEED YOUR KIDS RIGHT (1979) helpful. Good luck!

For the dad who does not want to feed his young child reduced fat milk products, here is an excerpt from the American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Staatement on Cholesterol in Childhood to support your point.

Nutrient Recommendations *(See 4/98 Errata) No restriction of fat or cholesterol is recommended for infants <2 years when rapid growth and development require high energy intakes. A precise percentage of dietary intake from fat that supports normal growth and development while maximally reducing atherosclerosis risk is unknown. Therefore, a range of appropriate values, averaged over several days for a child or adolescent, is recommended based on the scientific information available. Because concerns have been expressed that some parents and their children may overinterpret the need to restrict their fat intakes, a lower limit of fat intake is suggested by this Committee. The Committee recognizes that children 2 to 5 years of age are selective in their food choices. After 2 years of age, children and adolescents should gradually adopt a diet that, by ~5 ears of age, contains <30% of calories and <20% from fat. As they begin to consume fewer calories from fat, children should replace these calories by eating more grain products, fruits, vegetables, low-fat milk products or other calcium-rich foods, beans, lean meat, poultry, fish, or other protein-rich foods. These recommendations are for average intakes over several days, so that if foods high in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol are eaten, they can be compensated for by eating less of these nutrients at other times. Because no single food item provides all the essential nutrients in the amounts needed, choosing a wide variety of food from all the food groups will ensure an adequate diet.

The following appeared in the UCB Parents Advice Line, Jan 4, 2000: From my reading and study, the body recognizes best the 'real thing' which is whole, unpasteurized, unhomogenized milk...

I was dismayed to see this advice implying that children be given unpasterized (raw) milk. The danger of raw milk containing infectious agents such as salmonella, campylobacter, E. coli O157:H7, and listeria is well documented. These diseases can kill children. Pregnant women are also particularly vulnerable. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urges consumers to avoid raw/unpasteurized milk. There are essentially zero health benefits from drinking raw milk (especially when compared with pasteurized organic milk products), but there are considerable risks.

A nice summary of raw milk risks appears in the iVillage Parent's Place. http://www4.parentsplace.com/health/babycare/qa/0%2C3435%2C5367%2C00.html

Some other relevant information (including a sample of reports of food poisoning outbreaks in California due to raw milk consumption) is listed below.
Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR--produced by the CDC) Dec 18, 1988-Epidemiologic notes and reports update--listeriosis and pasteurized milk. MMWR, May 16, 1986--Epidemiologic notes and reports--Campylobacter outbreak associated with raw milk provided on a dairy tour--California MMWR, Oct 5, 1984--Epidemiologic notes and reports--Campylobacter outbreak associated with certified raw milk products--California MMWR, April 13, 1984--Salmonella dublin and raw milk consumption--California. (80% of the cases in the prior year had been hospitalized, and 26% died). Unpasteurized milk: The hazards of a health fetish. M. Potter in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), 1984, v 252, pp. 2048-52. The epidemiology of raw milk-associated foodborne disease outbreaks reported in the United States, 1973 through 1992. ML Headrick, et al. in the American Journal of Public Health, 1998, v. 88, pp. 1219-1221.
One could include dozens more...Hope this helps correct a misperception.

Spock says don't give babies (I think less than age two) low-fat milk, only whole, because the higher protein to fat ratio in low-fat milk is too much for their kidneys to handle.

I appreciate the writer's concern about unpasteurized milk. But I would like to offer the following from Sally Fallon's NURTURING TRADITIONS (1995):

Pasteurization is no guarantee of cleanliness. All outbreaks of contaminated milk in recent decades-- and there have been many--have occurred in pasteurized milk. This includes a 1984 outbreak in Illinois that struck 14, 216 people causing at least one death. The salmonella strain in that batch of pasteurized milk was found to be genetically resistant to both penicillin and tetracycline. Raw milk contains lactic-acid-producing bacteria which protect against pathogens. Pasteurization destroys these helpful organisms, leaving the finished product devoid of any protective mechanism should undesirable bacteria inadvertently contaminate the supply.

But that's not all that pasteurization does to milk. Heat alters milk's amino acids lysine and tyrosine, making the whole complex of proteins less available; it promotes rancity of unsaturated fatty acids and causes vitamin loss. Pasteurization alters milk's mineral components such as calcium, chlorine, magensium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and sulphur as well as many trace minerals, making them less available. There is some evidence that pasteurization alters lactase, maing it more readily absorbable. This and the fact that pasteurized milk puts an unnecessary strain on the pancreas to produce digestive enzymes, may explain why milk consumption in civilized socities has been linked to diabetes.

Last, but not least, pasteurization destroys all enzymes in the milk--in fact, the test for successful pasteurization is absence of enzymes. These enzymes help the body assimilate all body-building factors, including calcium. After pasteurization, chemicals may be added to suppress odor and restore taste. Artificial vitamin D, shown to be toxic to arteries and kidneys, is added.

Fat is indeed crucial to neurological development. Our pediatrician told us to go with full fat milk products until the age of 2 (at least), and then switch to 2%. As for obesity, training in good eating habits is the most important thing you can do to prevent it: limit junk foods, eat healthy snacks, respect mealtimes, etc. Try not to limit food intake, however (offer healthy alternatives if your child wants a snack) and never, never put a child on a diet or make him or her go hungry!