Turns out that organic milk doesn't just mean the cows were treated better. A recent study by Washington State University, published in the journal PLOS ONE, found that organic whole milk delivered more healthy fats than the conventionally raised stuff did.
Researchers compared 378 samples of organic and conventionally farmed whole milk from seven regions (defined as the Northwest, California, Rocky Mountains, Texas, the Midwest, the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast) from January 2011 to June 2012.
Their findings? Organic milk had a concentration of omega-3s that was 62 percent higher than non-organic milk. Omega-3s, which are also found in fish like salmon and mackerel, as well as seeds like walnuts and flax, play an important role in blood clotting, decreasing inflammation and protecting against heart disease and strokes.
Non-organic milk, on the other hand, was 33 percent higher in omega-6s, which tend to "increase inflammation, clotting and blood pressure," says Kelly Pritchett, PhD, RD, CSSD an Assistant Professor in Sports Nutrition at the University of Georgia. While these traits might not sound beneficial for your body, they're important for proper health.
"We need those functions [that omega-6s provide]," says Pritchett. "Those are vital, that's why it's an essential fatty acid."
Omega-6s can become a problem when people over consume them—which most of us do. Omega-6s are found in most vegetable oils commonly used in cooking. The University of Maryland Medical Center claims the typical American consumes 14 to 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3s. That's bad news, because "high amounts of dietary omega-6s have been associated with inflammation, [which] may also increase the risk of cancers, gallstones [and your] insulin resistance," according to Pritchett.
Pritchett says it's important to eat both omega-6s and omega-3s, but to do so in a balanced way. Studies suggest a ratio of 2.3 omega-6s for every omega-3 consumed.
To see if organic milk could help consumers get closer to that 2.3:1 ratio, Washington State's researchers had a test group of adult women substitute full-fat organic milk products in place of conventional dairy. That simple swap led to a drop of almost 40 percent in their omega-6 intake.
That's not to say conventional dairy is all bad. In fact, in one of the most surprising discoveries of the study, researchers observed that both organic milk and conventional milk had higher concentrations of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3, than a recommended serving of fish. Organic milk had 14 times more ALA than fish, while conventional milk had nine times as much.
The only surefire way for a milk drinker to miss out on those healthy omega-3s is to drink skim milk. Which makes sense: If you take the fat out of milk, you lose both the good and the bad fats.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock