Published December 10, 2013
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 FoxNews.com.
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.