We’ve all heard that milk is a good source of protein and calcium, but it turns out that even the fat in milk is good for us, as a source of omega-3 fatty acids. And, while dairy products in general provide heart-healthy fatty acids, organic whole milk provides significantly more.
A team of researchers, led by WSU researcher Dr. Charles Benbrook, conducted the first large-scale, U.S.-wide comparison of organic and conventional milk, and found that conventional milk had an average omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio of 5.8, more than twice that of organic milk’s ratio of 2.3. The higher the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, the greater the associated health risks.
Consumption of more omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids is a well-known risk factor for a variety of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and autoimmune diseases. Western diets typically have ratios up to 15-to-1, while a ratio of 2.3-to-1 is thought to maximize heart health. Researchers believe that switching from three daily servings of conventional dairy products to 4.5 daily servings of mostly full-fat organic dairy products can significantly improve a person’s fatty acid profile.
The team also compared the fatty acids in dairy products to those in fish. Co-author and WSU research associate Donald R. Davis said, “We were surprised to find that recommended intakes of full-fat milk products supply far more of the major omega-3 fatty acid, ALA, than recommended servings of fish.”
The study, published in the online journal PLOS ONE, analyzed organic milk from cows managed by farmer-owners of the Cooperative Regions of Organic Producer Pools, or CROPP, which markets through the Organic Valley brand. The two organizations helped fund the study but had no role in its design or analysis, which was funded by the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at WSU.
– by Eric Sorensen