Regular vs. Organic Milk: Fatty Acid Composition
Gregory Miller, PhD, FACN @ 7:26 AM
Choosing between regular and organic cow’s milk has often been a debate for consumers, but today comes new discussion about the difference in the fatty acid composition of the two—with some researchers positing that organic provides a better ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Currently the dialogue centers on the concept of whether there is an ideal fatty acid ratio among omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, with some identifying a ratio of 2:3 as the benchmark.
Some suggest that shifting the type of milk consumed by Americans could help nutritionally improve their omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids ratio. But the question remains: is achieving an ideal fatty acid ratio significant to nutrition and health and is milk the best food source to accomplish this?
A recent study by Benbrook et al. shows statistically significant, yet small differences in fatty acid profiles between organic and regular whole milk. With our current lack of understanding of how certain fats may affect human physiology, it is difficult to determine if these alterations at this small level are beneficial to public health.
It is important to note that dairy products are not considered a good source of omega-6 or omega-3 fatty acids in the total diet. The levels of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in dairy products are in general very low or extremely low, regardless if they are conventional or organic products. As such, the differences in omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in conventional vs. organic dairy presented by the authors would not impact the overall dietary ratio of these fatty acids.
Milk provides a small proportion of the omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids we need each day, but the reality is people enjoy organic and regular milk because they deliver a powerhouse of other nutrients in an appealing, safe and readily available way.
Getting 3 servings of low-fat and fat-free dairy foods each day can lead to health benefits, as indicated in the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In fact, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recognize that consumption of dairy foods (regardless of fat level) is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease (heart disease). The Dietary Guidelines state, “moderate evidence also indicates that intake of milk and milk products is associated with a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes and with lower blood pressure in adults” (Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010).
However, the Dietary Guidelines still recommend low-fat and fat-free milk and milk products, because of the obesity epidemic in America (i.e., it recommends people consume foods in their lowest caloric version).
The main sources of omega-6 and omega-3 in the American diet are vegetable oils. Therefore changing the types and amounts of oils used in foods and cooking better alter the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids.
One of the limitations of this study was that the authors did not examine the entire nutrient composition of milk. In this analysis, the focus was on the amount and types of fat. The authors did not examine or compare the amounts of most vitamins and minerals between organic and dairy products.
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