Health Trends

Does Milk Make You Fat? How Dairy Effects Your Weight Loss Efforts


You may have heard that dairy products, particularly milk, can cause weight gain, prevent weight loss, or contribute to other health effects.

Some might say that “drinking whole milk will make you gain weight,” or “cheese and butter are bad for your heart,” as well as “yogurt is good, but always opt for non-fat varieties.”

Most people have heard these statements, but do you believe them? How true are they, really? Does milk actually make you fat? 

I don’t think so. But you don’t have to take my word for it.

Today I’ll dive into all the creamy details about milk and dairy to help you answer these questions for yourself!

Does Milk Make you Fat?

A pitcher of milk next to some sunflowers

Like any other food, milk provides calories. Consuming too much of it can add inches to your waistline.

You can add approximately 150 calories to your daily caloric intake by drinking a cup of milk, therefore, it is easy to see how drinking a few glasses every day can add on the calories and, in consequence, the pounds.

If you are a milk drinker, a glass a day shouldn’t push you over your daily calorie limit.

Substitutes for Milk

Some almonds and a glass of almond milk

Milk is available in many varieties nowadays. So many in fact that the available options take up nearly half an aisle at the supermarket!

From organic to fat-free, to whole-fat, and flavored versions, not to mention almond, cashew, soy, rice, and coconut, there is a milk option out there for you.

Whether you have specific dietary needs such as milk allergies, lactose intolerance, or you’re simply looking to surprise your taste buds, there are many substitutes that will suffice for your meal-time needs. You can use them to pour over your favorite breakfast cereal, mix in pancakes and waffles, smoothies, or just drink straight from the glass.

Some of these options include, but are not limited to:

  • Almond Breeze Almond Milk
  • Better Than Milk Vegan Powders: Soy or Rice
  • Califia Farms Almond Milk Creamer for Coffee and Tea
  • Good Karma Probiotic Flaxmilk Beverages
  • Living Harvest Hempmilk
  • Silk Protein & Nut Milk
  • Silk Pure Almond – Dark Chocolate
  • So Delicious Coconut Milk Beverage
  • Suncoast Gold Macadamia Milk
  • Trader Joe’s Non-Dairy Milk Beverages
  • Wander Life Coconut Creamer (a Vegan & Paleo powdered option)

Sugar in Milk

A glass of milk with a candy cane

Ahhh, sugar. It’s everywhere. Kids crave it, pastry chefs live by it, and dieters avoid it like the plague.

Sugar is found naturally in fruit and it is found in drinks and virtually every packaged item at the grocery store. Some of us live by it, and for many of us, it does not love us back. But, did you know? Sugar comes in your morning cup of milk, too.

There are 12 grams of sugar in one cup of white milk (250 ml).

This is a naturally-occurring sugar called lactose, which provides milk with a slightly sweet taste. However, this kind of sugar shouldn’t be confused with added sugars that are found in packaged foods and beverages.

Added sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup (or any other syrup) and sucrose (table sugar)  have been linked to weight gain and other health problems when excessively consumed.

That said, you might find a lot of chatter on the internet that alternative milk products are less healthy because they contain more sugar than regular cow’s milk.

Although plain and unsweetened varieties of milk alternatives are typically a bit sweeter than cow’s milk, most are amazingly lower in sugar! Be sure to look at the labels though.

I have seen some brands and flavors (especially chocolate) with sugar levels at around 19 grams per serving. For the healthiest options, opt for the “Unsweetened” or “Light” varieties.

These typically have only 1-4 grams of sugar per 8 oz serving, compared to cow’s milk which had a whopping 12 to 16 grams of sugar per serving!

Is Milk Bad for You?

A cow looking smug or skeptical

Let’s start at square one.

What is milk, exactly?

I know, such a simple question, but most people can’t quite answer it. Milk is a liquid made up of water, fat, proteins, lactose (milk sugar) and minerals. Milk is known to be a high-protein and nutritious beverage. However, to some people it is thought to be “bad.”

Some claim that milk promotes weight gain, that it’s too processed to be healthy, or that it can weaken your bones.

Bodybuilders have been using milk as a “bulking food” for decades now because a few added cups to their meal plan can easily increase their caloric intake.

However, this doesn’t mean that milk directly causes weight gain. No single food can automatically make you gain weight by simply consuming it. The real issue when discussing “does milk make you fat?” is that body weight is based on the relationship between energy intake (what you eat) and energy expenditure (what you burn).

As for weakened bones, a study was conducted to determine the association between milk and bone health. For years, “everybody knew” that milk was good for your bones, until the idea came out that it actually weakens them by stripping away calcium. It was concluded that higher calcium intake from milk is associated with greater bone density, but this does not mean you have to drink it to have healthy bones, of course.

So, is milk bad for you? Most likely not. Milk provides your body with many essential nutrients that are related to a healthy lifestyle, but the reality is unless you’re getting an excess of calories from milk, over time you will notice the effects.

Can Cutting Out Dairy Help You Lose Weight?

A spread of yogurt, milk, cheese, and other dairy

It’s the celebrity weight-loss trick for model and television star, Khloe Kardashian. By forgoing diet staples like cheese, milk, and yogurt, dairy-free advocates like her swear cutting out cow’s milk has helped them shed unwanted pounds.

Although some people may have found success by giving up dairy, is cutting out this entire food group really the magic factor to help you lose weight for good? Or, is dairy bad for you when trying to lose weight?

If dairy makes up a significant portion of your daily caloric intake, then yes, cutting out dairy will help you lose weight. While you’re cutting out a major food group and replacing it with something else, like Almond Breeze Almond Milk, or not replacing it with anything altogether, then you’re taking in fewer calories each day.

However, for some people, dairy is more an inflammatory issue, rather than a battle with weight management. Not being able to digest dairy properly can cause bloating, gas, cramps, and other uncomfortable effects. If you are one of these people, leaving dairy off your menu will certainly alleviate your belly-bloat, you may find that your digestion improves, and your stomach will flatten out.

Now, is dairy “bad” for you when you are trying to lose weight? Not necessarily.

It’s true that many dairy products are relatively high in saturated fat and contain some trans fat as well However, it also has vital nutrients including protein, calcium, vitamins D, A, and E, and folate.

Unless you are avoiding dairy for a medical reason, severely limiting your dairy intake or shunning it altogether may make you nutrient-deficient. This causes your immune system to weaken and become unable to properly fight bacteria.

It’s more important that you eat a variety of healthful, low-calorie foods and exercise regularly. Or you can substitute your milk or other dairy products with supplements that will keep your body healthy and strong.

Whey Protein vs. Milk Protein: What’s the Difference?

A scoop filled with whey protein powder

A lot of people use whey protein as a post-workout protein source, and it’s also the main ingredient in meal replacement shakes.

But everyone knows that whey protein is a dairy food. Milk protein is made of a combination of whey and casein which are both major protein components.

After whey and casein are separated from the milk, whey is highly filtered and cleaned. This makes the remaining product a pure powdered protein food.

Often people choose to add a scoop of whey protein supplements to their milk or water, especially after a workout. This is because protein supplies our muscles with the amino acids they need to repair and grow.

That doesn’t mean milk protein alone can’t be equally or more effective. Tt’s just a matter of how well your body tolerates milk.


Still feeling lost about milk and how it might affect your weight?

Well, every human body is different and responds to nutrients in various ways. But overall, as you sort through the pros and cons of milk, make sure you consider the two opposing sides. One that believes milk is great for the body, and another that believes milk does not aid against osteoporosis and is even harmful to the body.

Whichever camp you choose to join, it really helps to be informed. The choice to be dairy-free or not is yours. So take every opportunity to be informed, and milk it for all its worth!

Molly Walsh

Molly Walsh

Writer and expert

Molly graduated from the London School of Economics in 2019. In her spare time you can probably find her golfing or trying to be inventive in the kitchen.

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