What's the Difference Between 1% and 2% Milk, Really?

If you're one of those weirdos who likes to drink milk with every meal including Chinese food, carry on, we're not here to judge. But we would like to enlighten you about what it is you're actually drinking, what it's doing to your body, and if there's really a difference between 1% and 2%.

To get the skinny, we spoke to two experts: Craig Miller, a third-generation dairy farmer from Mill-King in McGregor, TX, and Dr. Greg Miller (you can't make this stuff up, people), a nutritional biochemistry Ph.D. who has spent 20 years working for the National Dairy Council and literally wrote the Handbook of Dairy Food and Nutrition. Read on!

Flickr/Cory Doctorow

1% milk exists because of consumer taste, not nutrition

Skim and 2% were already on the market, but finicky and demanding consumers still wanted that rich, rich fatty milk mouthfeel, without the calories. There are absolutely no specific health benefits that happen at the sweet spot between skim and 2%. Milk companies complied. 

Flickr/Mike Mozart

All milk is technically skimmed

Cow's milk is naturally between 3.5%-4.5% butterfat, but unless you're buying from a specialty raw milk supplier like Mill-King, it's been stripped of all the fat during processing, then recharged with cream in order to reach specific fat levels, be it whole (roughly 3%), 2%, 1%, or skim.

Skim milk might be missing some important chemicals

The studies aren't in yet, and Greg isn't jumping on the raw milk bandwagon here, but he did hypothesize that completely fat-free milk could lack important biochemicals that help your body absorb other nutrients.

Flickr/Guy Montag

Fat in milk isn't linked to heart disease

Much of the original scare behind saturated fats and heart disease came from a study in the 1950s at the University of Minnesota that has since been discredited. The latest meta-analysis of a host of scientific studies has concluded that there isn't a correlation between saturated fat and cardiovascular disease!

Some people actually blame fat-free milk for the obesity epidemic

Oddly, full-fat milk makes you less hungry, while unsatisfying fat-free milk makes your body want more calories. This means you're likely to find them from other, less healthy sources.


Depending on who you ask, raw milk is either incredible or incredibly dangerous

This is where our two experts staunchly disagreed. Craig asserted that conventional pasteurization processes take away some of the nutritional value, and many of the enzymes that help people digest lactose are lost. He also blamed homogenization for the restructuring milk's sugars and proteins that make them harder for the body to accept.

Greg disagreed, and didn't know of any studies to support the theory that sugar is restructured, or that lactose was harder to digest after milk had been pasteurized. He equated both to urban legends. He also expressed concern over raw milk's susceptibility to viruses, and warned that it could put young children, pregnant woman, and the elderly at a serious health risk.

Flickr/Health Gauge

The calcium content in alternative milks is misleading

Data from the NDC concedes that alternative milks like soy, almond, and coconut often pack more calcium than traditional cow's milk, but the bioavailability of those nutrients is usually significantly lower. This means your body has a hard time absorbing them, which cancels out the benefits of higher concentrations.

Rice, coconut, and almond milk won't deliver protein

Cow's milk and soy milk clock in at 8% of your daily protein intake, while the others only contain 1% of your recommended protein. Also, these alternatives aren't complete proteins so they're harder for your body to utilize.

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Dan Gentile is a staff writer at Thrillist. He just tried Mill-King's delicious low-temp pasteurized milk, and it makes him glad he's not pregnant, elderly, or a child. Follow him to peanut butter jelly time at @Dannosphere.