If you’re trying to decide between organic and conventional milk, new findings about the health benefits of organic may have you reaching in that direction. Specifically, it appears that organic milk may be a good dietary source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Evidence suggests that omega-3s—which are available in fish oil and fish oil supplements and some plant and nut oils—can help lower triglycerides, a type a fat in your blood. Triglyceride levels affect heart health: too high (200 to 499 milligrams per deciliter [mg/dL] and above) and you raise your risk for cardiovascular issues such heart attack, dangerous abnormal heart rhythms, and hardening of the arteries; just right (less than 150 mg/dL) and you boost your chances of a healthy heart.
Dietary sources of omega-3s may be increasingly important, as our contemporary western diet tends to be high in another fatty acid, omega-6, found in common dietary staples like corn and sunflower oil. While omega-3s can help maintain desirable triglyceride levels, too many omega-6s can raise them.
Researchers with a recent study published in the journal PLoS ONE compared levels of fatty acids in conventional and organic milk during a 12-month period. They found that while organic milk contained more beneficial omega-3s (on average 62 percent more), conventional milk had higher levels triglyceride-raising omega-6s.
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To get the biggest omega-3 benefit from milk, you’ll want to choose whole (full fat) over skim or reduced fat. Because omega-3s are found in milk fat, when you reduce fat content, you also reduce desirable fatty acids.
With these benefits mind, it’s welcome news for organic, whole milk drinkers that, in addition to nutrients like calcium, you’re dairy beverage can be a source of the heart-healthy omega-3s.
Benbrook CM, Butler G, Latif MA, Leifert C, Davis DR. Organic Production Enhances Milk Nutritional Quality by Shifting Fatty Acid Composition: A United States–Wide, 18-Month Study. PLoS ONE 8(12): e82429. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0082429.