Recently released findings from a United Kingdom study on milk suggest that there are health benefits to drinking organic milk rather than conventional milk.
Though both organic milk and conventional milk have the same fat content, the study found that organic milk has higher concentrations of polyunsaturated fats.
The study behind this coverage has analysed the fat content in 22 brands of milk available in UK supermarkets, including 10 organic brands. It found that, overall, organic milk contained significantly higher levels of polyunsaturated fats, which are thought to be beneficial for health. However, there was no difference in overall levels of saturated fat, so suggestions that the study found organic milk to be “less fatty” were inaccurate. There were also seasonal variations in the differences, which were more pronounced in the summer, and other differences likely to be linked to the quality of the cows’ food.
Polyunsaturated fats, including Omega-3 fatty acids and Omega-6 fatty acids, are generally considered to be beneficial. They are the fats you will find in nuts, fish, and leafy greens.
You may recall some of my previous discussion on Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, when talking about the disadvantages of eating industrial meat products.
Is industrially-produced meat less healthy than meat from humanely-treated animals? Maybe. Research suggests that meat from pasture-raised cows contains proper Omega-3/Omega-6 balance and less fat. The literature isn’t overflowing on the topic, however.
The ratio of Omega-3 fatty acids to Omega-6 fatty acids is important to note, because the UK milk study concluded that organic milk has a more desirable ratio than conventional milk.
Why is organic milk healthier than conventional milk?
There are a few possible explanations as to why this may be the case:
- Organic feed for dairy cows directly influences polyunsaturated fat content.
- Less stressful environment of an organic dairy farm leads to changes in polyunsaturated fat content.
- Exposure to pasture and wild grass leads to changes in polyunsaturated fat content.
The authors of the study think the answer primarily lies in the pasture.
One year of the researchers’ study was cooler and wetter than the other, resulting in cows receiving less pasture feeding and a making poorer quality milk, the authors suggest.
Indeed, all of the differences probably come down to what proportion of the cows’ diet comes from grazing fresh grass, which, compared to other types of food, has higher levels of unsaturated fats, a portion of which are transmitted to the milk.
Warmer weather, summertime and organic farming practices all contribute to more pasturing of cattle.
“It’s not organic farming that may be causing those very small differences,” agreed Adam Lock of Michigan State University, who was not part of the study. “It’s that those animals may be receiving more pasture.”
Though additional studies are called for to examine the impact of the pasture, there’s fairly strong evidence available through secondary data analysis and the opinions of agricultural experts that confirm what we already know: We are what we eat, ergo, we are what we eat, eats. When we treat our food well, whether it be a strawberry plant dining on nutritious spring soil or a dairy cow grazing on fresh summer grass, those benefits will transfer to us.