I've heard that skimmed milk has more added chemicals than whole milk. Is this true?

  • Skim Milk is the product of a process that happens at the dairy processor. Every dairy has their own process though most follow similar processes with different machinery. So it is possible that one dairy adds chemicals that another does not. Even though both dairies produce milk for the same label. I think for this to be a good question you would need to question a specific chemical(s) commonly found in skim milk.
    – Chad
    Jan 17, 2012 at 14:09
  • It's not technically a chemical, but skim milk used to have powdered non-fat milk added to it, for body. And the process of converting milk to powder, is thought to damage the cholesterol, which can lead to atherosclerosis.
    – John C
    Apr 11, 2012 at 11:47
  • @JohnC: That claim is investigated here
    – Oddthinking
    May 13, 2012 at 2:21
  • This seems to be a country-specific question. I assume you're referring about US-legislation? For instance, here in Germany (possibly Europe) milk may only be sold as milk - skimmed or not - when it's treated with heat or a mechanical process. Everything else must not be called milk. Dec 17, 2013 at 8:39
  • 5
    How come some people can write a Skeptics Q like this, one sentence with zero backing up that the claim exists, and get upvotes? While others can write 5 paragraphs and get it put On Hold for not having the correct format of their multiple blockquotes backing it up. Aug 2, 2018 at 15:39

3 Answers 3


The prescriptionist scientist in me rejects the question as meaningless! The descriptivist in me compels me to try to answer the question you meant to ask.

Both whole milk and skim milk (in the USA) may be fortified with vitamins A and/or D.

Sharon Gerdes wrote in Dairy Foods (Feb 2009):

The dairy industry has been adding vitamin D3 to milk since 1932. In the 1940s, the dairy industry also began fortifying with vitamin A.

They can also be fortified with other nutrients such as Calcium.

However, the milk must be labeled if they are fortified. There are limits to what can be added to milk and still call it "milk". (See Section 131.110 of Standards of Identity.)

The fortification is optional, so it depends on the source. So, to see what additives are in your preferred brands of milk, check the labels. Before you discard the ones with more Vitamin A and D, ask if you are really concerned that the risks of extra vitamins outweigh the benefits - ditto with the fat content.

However, Cornell University's Milk Facts suggests a motivation for additional Vitamin A fortification in skim milk: because it is naturally lower in vitamin A, it needs more added to bring it to the same levels as whole milk.

Whole milk is considered a good source of vitamin A. Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin that is found in the fat phase of milk. The vitamin A content that occurs naturally in 2%, 1% and skim milk is less than in whole milk because of the lower fat levels. Nutritional concerns about consumption of lower fat milk in the late 1970s led to the required fortification of vitamin A in lower fat milks. To achieve the nutritional equivalence of whole milk, lower fat milks should be fortified to 300 IU vitamin A per 8 oz serving. The FDA encourages fortification to a level of 500 IU of vitamin A per 8 oz serving, which is 10 % of the recommended daily allowance (RDA).

Letting my inner prescriptionist off his leash for a moment:

In science, the word "chemical" means the same as chemical substance.

(Ref: High school chemistry, plus the above Wikipedia article that states: 'the term chemical substance is a precise technical term that is synonymous with "chemical" for professional chemists'.)

Under this definition, everything is either a chemical substance or a mixture of chemical substances. (Okay, not everything. Not light or heat or love or skepticism, but everything made of solids, liquids, gasses or plasma. Everything you can touch, taste or smell.)

So, 1kg of whole milk is 100% chemicals, and 1kg of skim-milk is 100% chemicals. No difference.

  • 19
    +1 100% chemicals. If only we say this every time a "are there chemicals in it?" question comes up.
    – matt_black
    Jan 15, 2012 at 14:19
  • 1
    @matt_black, I think our position has about another decade in it, before the looser definition of "artificial additives" (whatever that really means) wins out. It has already won some battles
    – Oddthinking
    Jan 15, 2012 at 15:01
  • 3
    When someone starts talking about chemical free, and all natural, they never take me up on the "All natural" blocks of Arsenic as a foodsource... Jan 15, 2012 at 20:34
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    @LarianLeQuella - What Chad said. The question was about adding readily distinguishable chemical substances NOT found in raw milk.
    – user5341
    Jan 17, 2012 at 14:45
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    @DVK, I think we all know what the OP really meant. It is just frustrating when people (and the OP is by no means the only one here, see my earlier comment - this is a broad trend) use a technical term to mean something else. It doesn't take a strong understanding of linguistics to know that this often happens, and is going to keep happening, but when it makes life more difficult by making precisely-defined technical language ambiguous or misleading, it makes people like me a little grumpy.
    – Oddthinking
    Jan 17, 2012 at 21:50

In the USA to be called "skim milk," it must have vitamin A and D added to replace what is lost during skimming. (They are fat-soluble, and hence lost when skimming off the fat.)

That is, according to the Food and Drug Administration's definition, skim milk is milk with reduced fat but not reduced vitamin content. (It isn't defined as simply milk that has been through the process of skimming off cream.)

If skim milk is produced by skimming off the fat without replacing the vitamins A and D, then it must be called "imitation skim milk" or "imitation milk product."

This is explained in a recent legal complaint by South Mountain Creamery, one of the dairies that have been suing over this definition.

The challenge aims to vindicate the right of the Creamery to use an honest, clear label on its all-natural, additive-free, pasteurized skim milk. The Creamery cannot do so in Pennsylvania because of FDA regulations mandating that skim milk sold across state lines may only be called “skim milk” if other ingredients are added to it. Pure skim milk without additives is banned by the FDA regulations from being described as skim milk and must instead be labeled as “imitation.”

While I certainly agree with the position that everything is inherent chemicals, I don't believe that you can hand wave away the prescriptivism vs descriptivism argument, or claim that it's just about being "scientifically accurate" when it comes down to the question of "what does skim milk mean." (Though that distinction may have some value in the case of other, more esoteric terms.)

  • 2
    The citation for the claim that the FDA requires "skim milk" to be fortified with extra vitamin A and D is hidden in the "complaint" PDF link, but it is present.
    – Brythan
    Aug 2, 2018 at 20:07
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    @Brythan: I've edited it to make that clearer.
    – Oddthinking
    Aug 3, 2018 at 14:38
  • @johnthacker: This is an interesting answer, and brings out an aspect my answer doesn't consider - that fortification might be mandatory. The last paragraph still confuses me though. It appears to be addressed at my answer, rather than the question, but I am not clear what your point is.
    – Oddthinking
    Aug 3, 2018 at 14:40

Skim milk is usually made by centrifugation of whole milk. Otherwise the fatty cream is allowed to rise naturally, and skimmed off. Neither process involves adding new chemicals to the milk, or anything other than separation based on physical properties. If you're counting types of chemicals in your milk, whole milk will be slightly higher, as it still contains all those fats and fat soluble materials that make up cream. As Oddthinking states, both whole and skim milk may be fortified by vitamins A and/or D.

  • 1
    Is there specific research showing that no "taste enhancing" chemicals are added to what would otherwise be very crappy tasting product?
    – user5341
    Jan 17, 2012 at 14:46
  • @DVK - That depends on the dairy processing it. Skim milk is an edible foodsource(as cited above) with out the flavor enhancers... that does not mean that some dairy's can not add them anyway.
    – Chad
    Jan 18, 2012 at 13:47

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