Is Skim Milk the Same as Fat-free Milk? (Their Difference)

Skim milk is one of the most popular varieties of milk on the market. It offers nutrients without excess calories. A person should have at least one glass of milk everyday. It is very important for the bones and for a balanced diet.

People often wonder if skim milk is the same as fat-free milk given that they are often assumed to be one in the same. Read on to find out how they are different.

What is Skim Milk?

Skimmed milk is obtained by removing all the cream or milk-fat from whole milk. It is also known as fat-free milk or nonfat milk as it is a lower calorie and low-fat version of traditional full-fat milk. The majority of low-fat milk is fortified with vitamin A and vitamin D since these fat-soluble vitamins are often lost when the fat is extracted from whole milk.

Types of Skim Milk

The different types of skim milk are:

Non-fat dry milk: It is a powdered form of skim milk that lacks water and cream.
Concentrated skim milk: It is nonfat milk from which a certain amount of water has been removed. This gives the milk a thicker consistency. It is also a more concentrated source of protein, natural sugar, vitamins, and minerals.
Reconstituted skim milk: It is non-fat dry milk with water added to it, forming the consistency of regular milk.
Organic skim milk: This is made from milk that comes from cows that are not treated with synthetic growth hormones or antibiotics, and given only organic feed.

Skim Milk Nutrition Facts

Two bottles of skimmed milk

There are many critical nutrients in skim milk, including a significant amount of protein, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, zinc, and potassium. In vitamins, it is rich in vitamins A, B2, B3, B6, B12, and D, as well as thiamine and folate. A cup of skimmed milk has 8 grams of high-quality, complete protein, which contains all essential 9 amino acids required for growth and development.  It is low in calories and has a very low level of cholesterol and fat.

Research suggests that if you drink skim milk, organic is best. It comes from grass-fed cows. Their milk is richer in nutrients and has more omega-3 fatty acids.

Difference between Skimmed Milk and Fat-Free Milk

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the term nonfat milk means skim milk, nonfat dry milk, concentrated skim milk, or reconstituted skim milk. Technically, over 99.5 percent of the fat must be removed, making the product virtually fat-free. Also called skimmed milk, skim milk is the same product as fat-free milk. It stands in contrast to whole cow's milk which retains all of the fat and 1 or 2 percent milk which contains 1 to 2 percent fat, respectively. Skim milk is lower in calories than other milks, while retaining roughly the same amount of most other nutrients.

The only difference is the amount of fat and calories. In fact, skimmed cow's milk contains slightly more calcium than full-fat milk because calcium is found in the watery part, not the creamy part.

Therefore, there is no difference between skimmed milk and fat-free milk. There is just a difference between names, relating to different brands and different dairies. Other names that fat-free or skim milk might reflect on their labels are zero fat, without fat, and free of fat.

In the UK, skim milk may still have some fat in it (i.e. less than 0.5%), but fat free milk has no fat in it. In the US, skim milk often means fat free.

Difference in Fat Content of Skim Milk and 0% Milk

Though both skim milk and 0% milk are essentially fat free, skim milk contains equal to or less than 0.5% fat and fat free milk (0% milk) as the name indicates has 0% fat. Some people even use the terms interchangeably. The fat content of milk is clearly indicated on milk container and also can be identified by the color of label on milk bottle caps. Color schemes allow for quick recognition. Skim milk varieties of 1% and 2% are available in the UK even though 1% milk is not considered to be milk.

How is Skimmed Milk Made?

How is Skimmed Milk Made

Quite obviously by removing fat from whole milk. But how does one get rid of fat? The traditional method is to let milk sit in the fridge and wait until the cream rises to the top and creates a solid layer. Then, as you gather the cream, you will be left with milk with a lower percentage of fat. You will probably need to repeat this process a couple of times to achieve truly skimmed milk, but in essence, that's how you make low-fat milk.

Of course, modern factories utilize special machinery for this purpose. The device they use is called a separator, and it does just what its name suggests: It separates fat from milk. This machine resembles a large centrifuge that spins at a high speed, forcing cream to gather in the middle and pushing the heavier skimmed milk to the sides. Then, the liquid passes through the holes in the bowl of the separator and gathers in one compartment.

Should You Drink Skim Milk or Whole Milk?

It depends on your nutritional requirements specifically. While whole milk has more fat, much of which is saturated fat, you do need fat in your diet to help absorb nutrients. For example, skim milk is often fortified with vitamins because the vitamins are dissolved in the milkfat and then removed during the skimming process. As for the calories, it is worth noting that you do need to consume a basic amount of fat in order to feel full after eating.

If you're looking only at the calories and protein, skim milk is the clear winner. It has 83 calories and 8 grams of protein per cup, while the same amount of full-fat milk contains 149 calories and a little less protein. If you need to reduce your saturated fat intake or you drink tons of milk each day, skim might be a better choice for you, but otherwise whole milk is probably a better (and tastier) choice.

Final Words

Milk can be a powerhouse component of a healthy diet. It's best to determine your personal dietary needs when picking the milk type that is right for you. As always, consider things like your current weight, your current diet, your level of activity and other factors like age.

Someone consuming a high-fat diet would find skim milk to be completely unsuitable to their diet. In contrast, someone on a high-carb, low-fat and low-protein diet might find skim milk to be much better suited to their diet compared to other dairy products.