Milky matters

Is organic whole milk really better for you?

January 21, 2014

Back in early December, the word went out that organic whole milk was better for you than other kinds of milk. Why? Because scientists had measured more healthy omega-3 fats than healthy omega-6 fats in the organic whole milk.

As the professional debunker Jon Entine pointed out in Forbes, the organic part of the equation was fuzzy; it’s cows fed mostly or entirely on grass that have the highest number of omega-3s in their meat and milk, and the organic label does not necessarily mean that cows are living blissful lives in grassy fields. And, as Tom Philpott reported on Mother Jones, the organic-is-better study was funded by Organic Valley, the farmer-owned organic dairy cooperative.

But as Kristin Wartman noted on Civil Eats, organic cows are generally fed more pasture-based feed than conventional cows, making organic milk more likely to have more omega-3s than conventional milk. Philpott also agreed with this conclusion: “The takeaway seems to be: milk from grass-fed cows seems to have more healthy fats then conventional milk. And for consumers, the organic label is a good shorthand way to find milk from cows eating the good stuff.”

Of course, both omega-3s and omega-6s are good for us; the conventional wisdom right now, as Kenneth Chang reminded readers in the New York Times, is just that our heavy consumption of omega-6s (and our relatively low consumption of omega-3s) may be hurting us. And, Chang added, since both omegas are only found in fat, reduced-fat milk has fewer of them, and nonfat milk none at all.

Which begs the longstanding question: Why do the feds still recommend that shoppers shun whole milk in favor of lower-fat or fat-free milk? A November op-ed in the Times by Tina Rosenberg repeated this outdated advice, categorizing low-fat milk as healthy and whole milk as unhealthy. This, despite a July report associating the consumption of low-fat milk with the obesity epidemic.

Even if you’re still wary of saturated fats, whole milk isn’t really a high-fat food; its fat content averages only around 4 percent.

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