A new study that analyzed the health benefits of drinking organic milk versus conventional milk, published Monday in the journal PLOS ONE, may help those of us spending up to $3 more per gallon on organic milk sleep a little better at night.
The study compared almost 400 milk samples of both organic and non-organic milk, taken from 14 milk processing plants, across 7 regions of the country, over an 18 month period of time. Samples were pasteurized with by either the high-temperature-short-time method (HTST) or by the ultra-high-temperature method (UHT, also known as ultra-pasteurization). Over a 12 month average, the findings were significant.
Drinking whole organic milk “will certainly lessen the risk factor for cardiovascular disease,” said the study’s lead author, Charles M. Benbrook, a research professor at Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Organic milk contained 25% less w-6 fatty acids and 62% more w-3 fatty acids than conventional milk, yielding a 2.5-fold higher w-6/w-3 ratio in conventional compared to organic milk (5.77 vs. 2.28).
So what does that mean for us milk drinkers? A diet higher in levels of omega-3 fatty acids, and lower in omega-6, is thought to be better for your heart and help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Omega-3 fatty acids are often found in seafood, nuts and flaxseed, while fried foods such as potato chips, contain a higher amount of omega-6. Today most Americans now eat more than 10 times as much omega-6, as omega-3. While some experts and scientists may disagree on how detrimental omega 6s are, as well as the importance of a proper w-6/w-3 ratio in our diet, they do agree that omega 3s are generally good for you.
The reason for the higher levels of omega-3 in organic milk can easily be attributed to an organic cow’s diet, highly reliant on grass and legume based forages, whereas a conventional dairy cow’s diet is primarily a mixture of corn and soy, which contain higher levels of omega-6. USDA law requires that in order to be certified organic, all cows must be provided with a minimum of 120 days on pasture during each grazing season.
Some critics have voiced concern that the study was funded by Organic Valley, a coop of organic farmers across the country, and the lead researcher once worked as the chief scientist for the Organic Center, but still, peers in the scientific community state the findings are credible and significant. “I think this is a very good piece of work,” said Dr. Joseph Hibbeln, a nutritional neuroscientist at the National Institutes of Health.
Benbrook stated that all milk is healthy for you, but it would appear that organic milk is better.
Besides the higher level of omega-3, organic milk comes from cows not treated with antibiotics, and fed a diet free of pesticides and GMOs. While those added benefits may not significantly impact one’s health, typical consumers of organic products are doing so with a bigger picture in mind — primarily for the support of sustainable farming practices, resulting in a more positive environmental impact. The added health benefits are essentially just a nice bonus. For some, eating organic is a feel-good way of life, therefore the findings of this study are just the icing on the cake.