Many times, hailing the health benefits of organic foods, for example fruits and vegetables, has been criticized, and with good reason – while there may be less pesticide residues on the produce, the organic production method is mainly healthy for the planet, and there is little reason why an organic apple should have more vitamins than a conventional one. However, this same insight has been toppled for milk, as a new study finds that organic whole-fat milk has much higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids – those also found in seafood and flaxseed for example- and lower levels of omega-6 fatty acids – those normally associated with vegetable oils and fried foods – compared to conventional milk.
This can be explained by the fact that organic cows are required to spend at least part of their lives on pasture and eat grass, high in omega-3, whereas conventional cows are mainly fed with corn that is richer in omega-6 – and apparently, this difference will be directly visible in the milk they give.
While the research was funded by Organic Valley (their CEO was quoted to just be interested in how organic foods differ from conventional ones, saying “organics have lacked a science base. I just wanted to know.”), it seems sound in its methodology: the researchers analysed 384 samples of whole milk taken from all over America over a period of 18 months. According to their results, the organic milk samples contained “62 percent more omega-3 fatty acids and 25 percent fewer omega-6s” than their conventional counterparts. This led their omega-6 to omega-3 ratios drop from 5.77 (normal milk) to 2.28.
Now, the jury is still out whether omega-6 fatty acids are actually that much worse for you (this FAQ from a Harvard nutritionist argues that they are pretty much both healthy, whereas this overview from the University of Maryland does say that some omega-6s can promote inflammation for example), but most nutritionists agree that the average person takes in too little omega-3s in their diet, whereas omega-6s are abundant. So why not tilt the balance in favor of the other direction?
I wouldn’t necessarily agree with the conclusion of the lead researcher that “drinking whole organic milk will certainly lessen the risk factor for cardiovascular disease” and should thus be promoted, even by increasing the daily recommended portion size from 3 to 4.5 servings (it is still a source of fat, albeit healthy fat, that could increase the overall caloric intake and contribute to overweight) – this seems a very skewed perspective in favor of dairy products, especially if you consider that many cultures do not consume dairy products and are still perfectly healthy. (I just watched Forks over Knives and have a lot to say about that research too in a future post 🙂
But still, if you do drink whole milk it’s great to know what your options are – and that the organic cow’s health might directly translate into your own. Interesting tidbit – the Maryland article mentioned that the same conclusion is true for grassfed beef meat versus grainfed. Thus, these benefits really appear throughout the production process for animal products in general.
What do you think of this new finding?