Whole Milk


At what age did folks switch their kids from whole milk to 2%? Lillie is now 25 mos. and has milk twice a day (6-8 oz before her nap and 6-8 oz before bedtime). She also eats whole milk yogurt and cheese a few times a week. She eats pretty good meals (ie, the milk is not a substitute for food in any way). All of her milk, and much of her yogurt, is from 100% grass-fed cows, and I know some reports suggest that the fat from 100% grass-fed cows is not long-term damaging (and in fact contains more of the beneficial nutrients) in the way that fat from grain/corn-fed cows is… so, I haven’t been in any rush to get her off of whole milk for any “fat is bad” reasons. I guess calories are a reason to switch her, but am wondering if there are continuing benefits to grass-fed whole milk for her. She is active and eats extremely healthy, so I’m not feeling a “calories are bad” rush, either. All that said, I’d also be fine with her dropping milk altogether, as she gets protein and calcium from many other sources, but she loves it too much. Anything I’m missing?

Tanya and Lillie, 25 mos, who would have milk for meals if I let her – that’s why we don’t have it at mealtime, otherwise no “real” food would get eaten!

Dr. Greene's Answer

Tanya, I like the way you think.

For kids at that age who drink milk, about 16 ounces a day is a great amount (though it can also be great to get protein, calcium, vitamin D, etc. from other sources instead).

Kids do need healthy fats throughout childhood, and especially during the first 3 years when brain growth is at its fastest (the brain is up to about 60% fat). As you observe, milk from 100% grass-fed cows can have a much healthier fat profile, with increased omega 3’s and CLA’s and decreased other fats, compared to milk from corn/soy-fed cows.

Organic milk from grass-fed cows can have even more advantages. For instance, rBST-free milk, can and often does, come from cows that receive as many as 18 other hormone injections. Not so with organic cows.

All other things being equal, I prefer foods close to the way they are found in nature. For instance, drinking a 10 ounce glass of organic whole milk from grass-fed cows can deliver as much beta-carotene as 6 nectarines. Cutting the fat cuts the fat soluble vitamins. Switching the cattle off pasture can virtually eliminate them.

Some toxins do accumulate in animal fat. The USDA has found trace levels of toxic synthetic pesticides in 27% of samples of conventional milk, which typically comes from cows fed pesticide-intensive corn and soy. This is slashed in organic cows. Overall, I believe the pesticide risk to be very low either way — but it is another reason one might consider switching to lower fat sooner with conventional milk.

For kids who are not otherwise getting too much fat or too many calories from other sources, and who are getting good milk from clean, grass-fed cows I see no rush to change to low fat milk — certainly not before age 3, and maybe not ever.

But for the great majority of kids, this is not the case.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has typically recommended starting with whole milk at age 1, switching to 2% at age 2, then down to 1% at age 3 in an effort to reduce fat and calories in the diet. It’s one of these easiest ways to do this, and might help kids learn to enjoy less rich foods overall.

The childhood obesity epidemic and the typical kid’s diet had gotten so bad by 2005, however, that the American Academy of Pediatrics endorsed new American Heart Association feeding guidelines that say START with 2% milk at age 1 and switch all the way to NONFAT at age 2. It shows how out-of-balance we’ve become.

Tanya, sounds to me like you’ve got it just right. And there’s lots of good, healthy options, from whole to nonfat to no milk at all.

Published on: September 24, 2010
About the Author
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Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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