Organic milk or conventional milk: which is the healthiest?
Do you think organic milk is healthier than conventionally produced milk? Although some recent news headlines proclaim the nutritional and health advantages of organic cow’s milk, scientific experts challenge such claims. The on-going debate over whether organic milk is healthier than its non-organic counterpart has heated up following a recent review published in the British Journal of Nutrition.
The review’s claims. Based on their review of 170 studies, a team of researchers led by a professor at Newcastle University in England reported that the content of omega-3 fatty acids in organic whole milk is higher than conventionally produced whole milk. Omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fatty acids, have been linked to reduced risk of heart disease and improved immune function.
The review’s authors also reported slight differences between organic and conventionally produced whole milk in some nutrients naturally low in cow’s milk. Specifically, organic whole milk had slightly higher amounts of iron, vitamin E, and some carotenoids, but lower amounts of iodine and selenium compared to conventionally produced whole milk.
Beyond the headlines: the experts’ perspectives. Critics, including scientific experts from the University of Reading and the University of Surrey who were invited to comment on the review, raised several concerns about the review and its findings. The following are some of the experts’ perspectives:
- Milk, whether organic or conventional, is not a significant source of omega-3 fatty acids in the American diet. “Overall, differences in milk fatty acids in organic v. conventional systems are extremely small when examined in the context of total diets and would have very limited contribution to nutrition or health …”, state the University of Reading experts. Instead, individuals who want to increase their dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids should consume fatty fish such as salmon, walnuts, vegetable oils such as canola oil, and flaxseed, which are main food sources of this nutrient.
- Findings of the review do not translate into better health for people who drink organic whole milk. The small increase in omega-3 fatty acids has yet to be directly linked to improved health status in persons who consume organic whole milk.
- Numerous studies have found no major nutritional differences between organic and conventional milk. In a recent review of organic and conventionally produced milk published in the Journal of Dairy Science, the authors concluded any differences between the two may be explained by the numerous factors that can influence milk composition, such as the cows’ diet, breed, genetics, or environment. The researchers point out that most of the minor nutrient differences reported between organic and conventional milk can be explained by what cows are fed and their breed, and not anything unique to being organic or conventionally produced itself.
Bottom Line: There’s no conclusive evidence that organic cow’s milk is healthier than conventionally produced milk. Regardless of which variety you choose, cow’s milk delivers a powerhouse of essential nutrients in a delicious, affordable, and readily available form.