Whole organic milk contains a healthier balance of heart-healthy omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids compared with conventionally produce milk, according to a new study, reported by The New York Times
The healthier fatty acid profile of organic milk is likely a result of cows foraging on grass, the researchers said.
The research, published in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One, is one of the most definitive studies to find a clear health benefit to eating an organic food, compared to a conventionally product.
Drinking whole organic milk "will certainly lessen the risk factor for cardiovascular disease," said lead researcher Charles M. Benbrook, a professor at Washington State University.
"All milk is healthy and good for people," he told The Times, "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.
Federal regulations on organic food labeling require dairy cows to spend a certain amount of the time in the pasture, eating grassy plants high in omega-3s. By contrast, conventional milk comes from cows that are mostly fed corn, which is high in omega-6s.
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.
"I think this is a very good piece of work," Joseph Hibbeln, M.D., a nutritional neuroscientist at the National Institutes of Health, told The Times.
For the study, researchers looked at 384 samples of organic and conventional whole milk taken over 18 months around the country. Although the total amount of fat was almost the same, the organic milk contained 62 percent more omega-3 fatty acids and 25 percent fewer omega-6s.