Diet Trends

Organic milk contains better ratio of healthy fats, study reveals

Next time you’re buying milk, you may want to reach for an organic brand.

Organic milk seems to contain a better ratio of the heart-healthy fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6, according to a new study from Washington State University. Though previous studies have indicated organic milk might be more nutritionally beneficial, this was the first study to assess those differences on a large scale.  

“Never before had there been a study like ours, which was nationwide and also went on for 18 months,” study author and WSU research associate Donald R. Davis told 

In a study published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers tested nearly 400 samples of organic and conventional milk.  They were able to determine that while conventional milk contains an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 5.8, organic milk has a ratio of 2.3; and the lower the ratio, the better for your health.

According to Davis, Americans typically have too much omega-6 in their diets, which some experts believe is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, excessive inflammation and autoimmune disease.

Milk and omega-3 fatty acids

While the ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in a person’s body is thought to be 2.3-to-1, the ratio in most Western diets is between 10-to-1 and 15-to-1, according to the study’s authors. Davis said this can be attributed to long-standing confusion about the role omega-6 fatty acids play in our health.  

“In the 50s, 60s and 70s, it was discovered that omega-6 fatty acids decrease cholesterol levels, so it became a bandwagon,” Davis said. “…But it turns out there’s more to heart disease than just cholesterol levels, and many people think that (omega-6), though it does lower cholesterol, may increase risk for heart disease because of its effects on other mechanisms.”

As Americans began to consume more foods high in omega-6 fatty acids – such as vegetable oil, which is prevalent in processed foods – the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in their bodies has become increasingly higher, potentially putting their health at risk.

Organic milk seems to offer a better ratio of fatty acids because it comes from pasture-fed cows, according to Davis.

“As we in the U.S. have progressively moved away from pasture towards feeding corn and soybeans, which aren’t the natural diet for cows, the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio goes up,” Davis said.

Is whole milk better?

Notably, Davis and his colleagues performed their research using full-fat milk, and they warned that the health benefits of milk would decrease for people consuming lower-fat or skim varieties. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services recommend consuming reduced-fat milk, yet Davis argues that more and more research is indicating that full-fat milk may actually be more beneficial.

“The evidence (that low-fat is better) is pretty weak, and there’s quite a bit of evidence that full-fat milk has beneficial properties too,” Davis said. “Though the dietary guidelines for the U.S. for many years have recommended reduced fat, I think that will probably change some day.”

After realizing the benefits of organic milk, Davis and his colleagues also decided to analyze how a typical American woman could best alter her ratio of fatty acids. Overall, they discovered that the most effective methods would be to cut down on omega-6 fatty acids and switch to organic milk – while also increasing the total amount of milk consumed.

“If you did all these things, you’d get 80 percent of the way to what some people think is a more ideal ratio of about 2.3 instead of typical Americans ratio of being up high around 10 or 15,” Davis said.