What Do Milk Fat Percentages Mean?

Milk fat percentages displayed on milk cartons and bottles can cause lots of confusion. One simple question gets asked a lot: how much fat is in whole milk? A misconception of what “whole milk” contains makes it difficult for consumers to choose the dairy milk right for them and their families. Therefore, what do the milk fat percentages mean? 

Milk Fat Percentages

According to the IDFA (International Dairy Foods Association), bovine milk consists of 87% water and 13% milk solids. What this means is, that the milk solids right from a cow’s udder contain about 4% fat and 9% not fat.

It is important to understand that when you purchase milk, the 1% or 2% does not represent the amount of milk fat remaining from 100% milk fat. The percentage found on the milk container is the amount of fat in the milk by weight. As in, 1% does not mean 99% of the milk fat is gone. In other words, 1% means that the total serving consists of 1% milk fat, not 1% of the original amount of milk fat. 

By understanding this, the term “whole milk” does not mean 100% milk fat. Whole milk contains approximately 3.25-3.5% milk fat or 8 grams. Lower fat milk such as 2% contains 5 grams, followed by 1% milk with 2.5 grams. Finally, there is skim or fat-free milk containing 0 grams of milk fat. 

Interesting Information About Milk Fat Percentages

The process to change the amount of milk fat found in milk is simple, and it does not involve diluting the milk with water. Instead, the fat is simply skimmed off the top of milk before homogenization. Remember, before homogenization, where milk is essentially shaken to create a balanced consistency, milk and its cream separate. By removing all 8 grams of milk fat and then adding back the preferred portion, consumers can easily choose the milk that best fits their palates. 

Regardless of which fat percentage you choose, all dairy milk contains the same 13 essential nutrients, including 8 grams of high-quality protein. The only difference is the milk fat and accompanying calories, which are at most approximately 150 calories per serving.

All varieties of dairy milk — traditional or organic, chocolate or white – are safe and wholesome to drink. Strict standards of practice and government regulations in the United States ensure that all milk you buy at the store is safe for you and your family to drink. 

This infographic breaks down the nutritional information for each offering of real dairy milk

milk nutrients and percentages

The Dairy Alliance Appreciates Milk Fat

Here at The Dairy Alliance, we are a proud supporter of dairy farms, dairy cows, and dairy farmers nationwide. Cow milk, as part of a healthy well-balanced diet, is essential for growth and healthy bodies in people of all ages.

Which percentage of milk fat do you prefer? Whatever your personal choice is, The Dairy Alliance offers a plethora of recipes for your taste.