Whole milk from organic dairies contains far more of some of the fatty acids that contribute to a healthy heart than conventional milk, scientists are reporting.
The finding, published Monday in the journal PLOS One, is the most clear-cut instance of an organic food’s offering a nutritional advantage over its conventional counterpart. Studies looking at organic fruits and vegetables have been less conclusive.
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.
“All milk is healthy and good for people,” he continued, “but organic milk is better, because it has a more favorable balance of these fatty acids” – omega-3, typically found in fish and flaxseed, versus omega-6, which is abundant in many fried foods like potato chips.
Under government requirements for organic labeling, dairy cows must spend a certain amount of the time in the pasture, eating grassy plants high in omega-3s; conventional milk comes from cows that are mostly fed corn, which is high in omega-6s. Nonorganic cows that graze in pastures also produce milk with greater amounts of omega-3s.
The research was largely funded by Organic Valley, a farm cooperative that sells organic dairy products. But experts not connected with the study said the findings were credible – though they noted that the role of milk in a healthy diet and the influence of fatty acids in preventing or causing cardiovascular disease are far from settled.
“I think this is a very good piece of work,” said Dr. Joseph Hibbeln, a nutritional neuroscientist at the National Institutes of Health.