If you prefer to drink organic milk from cows fed a diet of more grass and grain-based feed and less corn, you could be helping to keep your heart healthy. A new study by researchers from Washington State University‘s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources has found that organic milk has health benefits that milk from conventional dairies does not.
Researcher Charles Benbrook and his colleagues analyzed almost 400 samples of whole milk over an 18 month period and found that organic milk contained higher amounts of beneficial fatty acids (omega-3s) and smaller amounts of those that have been connected to inflammation, heart disease and diabetes (omega-6s). Specifically, organic milk turns out to be 62 percent richer in omega-3 fatty acids that we get from eating beans, fish and many vegetables but contains 25 percent fewer of the omega-6 fatty acids that are often found in fried foods.
While we need both types of fatty acids, nutritionists say that the typical American diet contains too many omega-6 fatty acids due to the corn and soy oils in the processed and fast foods that comprise much of too many people’s diets. Overall, Americans consume an average of 10 to 15 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3s. Drinking whole milk can, Benbrook says, help to restore a balance of fatty acids; if you drink organic whole milk, you’ll get more of the health benefits.
A New Reason to Drink Whole Milk?
Notably, these health benefits only come from drinking whole milk versus milk that is low-fat or skim. 1 percent milk, for instance, has only about one-third of the fat content of whole milk.
At a time when overall consumption of milk and especially of whole milk in the United States has been declining, the study shows that there is reason to drink cow’s milk and, specifically, whole milk. Sales of whole, organic milk have actually increased 10 percent this year while sales of skim organic milk have declined, says NPR. While pediatricians generally recommend that children drink low-fat milk products starting at the age of 2, some research has actually linked “fattier milk to slimmer kids.”
University of Wisconsin food scientist Scott Rankin, president of the American Dairy Science Association, expresses some skepticism about the new study, noting that he “would want to see a greater ability to connect the dots between this (fatty acid) ratio and some great claims about cardiovascular disease.” For one thing, as Rankin points out, the actual levels of fatty acids (of either type) that one gains from drinking milk are not very high. The question remains if having “60 percent of a tiny amount” adds up to significant health benefits and whether it would be more helpful simply to eat more foods that are rich in omega-3s.
The study was funded in part by dairy farmers of the Cooperative Regions of Organic Producer Pools, which markets milk through the Organic Valley brand. These groups, though, had “no role in its design or analysis.”
The Case For Choosing Organic
At a time when there are plenty of alternatives to milk (soy, almond, cashew) and when it’s possible to get your daily calcium intake by taking vitamins, the new Washington State University study shows that there can be health benefits to drinking milk. Most of all, the study offers some good reason for choosing organic products over conventional ones.
As the Seattle Times points out, while some research has found that some organic fruits and vegetables do have higher levels of antioxidant chemicals than conventional produce, ”most major reviews of all the evidence have found little nutritional distinction between organic and conventional foods.” Organic milk, produced via sustainable farming practices, does have a different nutritional make-up than milk made from conventional methods. Foods produced without pesticides and not by industrial manufacturers can and is better for us. If you’ve got to have milk, get some that’s organic.
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