December 11, 2013
Regular Milk Can’t Beat Organic When It Comes To Heart-Healthy Fats
[ Watch the Video: Researchers Tout The Effects Of Organic Milk ]
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe OnlineIn promoting the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, a new study led by Washington State University has recently found that organic milk contains a significantly higher amount of the heart-healthy fats than regular milk from cows on conventional dairy farms.
While all milk offers heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, the new research concludes that organic whole milk is the best source of this essential nutrient. Additionally, organic milk may be a better choice due to the fact that conventional milk has an average omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio of 5.8, which is more than double that of organic milk’s 2.3.
According to a National Institutes of Health factsheet on omega-3 fatty acids, “Most American diets provide more than 10 times as much omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids. There is general agreement that individuals should consume more omega-3 and less omega-6 fatty acids to promote good health.”
While Omega-6 fatty acids are important in the diet to some extent, in larger amounts they are associated with a variety of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, inflammation and autoimmune diseases. The higher the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, the greater the likelihood of developing disease.
The WSU study is the first large-scale, US-wide comparison of organic and conventional milk. The team tested about 400 samples of both types of dairy product over an 18-month period to come to their conclusions.
[ Watch the Video: Added Nutritional Benefits of Organic Milk ]
Much research has been published showing that foraging on grass and legumes promotes cow health and improves the fatty acid profile in organic dairy products.
Charles Benbrook, the study’s lead author from WSU, said that, even with all the research proof, he and his team were “surprised by the magnitude of the nutritional quality differences we documented in this study.”
Most western diets have an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of between 10-to-1 and 15-to-1. The 2.3-to-1 ratio found in organic milk is believed to maximize heart health. Benbrook and colleagues modeled a hypothetical diet for adult women with a baseline ratio of 11.3-to-1 and looked at how far three interventions could go in reducing that ratio to 2.3.
They found that by switching from three daily servings of conventional dairy products to 4.5 servings of full-fat organic dairy products, adult women could achieve nearly 40 percent of that nine-point needed ratio drop in their daily diets. Additionally, by avoiding a few foods each day considered high in omega-6 fatty acids, women could lower their fatty acid ratio to about 4-to-1, about 80 percent of the way to the 2.3-to-1 ratio goal.
“Surprisingly simple food choices can lead to much better levels of the healthier fats we see in organic milk,” said Benbrook.
In a blog coinciding with the research, which was published in the Dec. 9 online issue of PLoS ONE, Benbrook noted that there is “no magic number or universal agreement on the optimal omega-6/omega-3 ratio in the human diet” so the team went with the often-noted target of 2.3-to-1.
“Our findings would not have differed much had we chosen the less ambitious goal of 5. We quantified the progress made as a result of the dietary interventions in terms of percent progress from the baseline ratio of 11.3 to the heart-health target of 2.3 (i.e., a total drop of 9 points would be desirable in the value of the omega-6/omega-3 ratio),” he added.
Benbrook said it is likely that his team’s research will trigger some discussion and debate. Among the likely topics: “The current balance of fatty acid intakes in the American diet, the roll [sic] of full-fat milk and dairy products in health promotion and the development of infants and children, and steps consumers can take to progress toward a healthier mix of fats in their diet.”
Organic milk analysis for Benbrook’s study came from cows managed by farmer-owners of the Cooperative Regions of Organic Producer Pools (CROPP), which markets through the Organic Valley brand. These two organizations also helped fund the study but had no role in its design or analysis. The study also received funding from the Measure to Manage program in the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University.