Dec 122013

A new study published in PLOS One, Organic Production Enhances Milk Nutritional Quality by Shifting Fatty Acid Composition, reports organic milk has a substantial and healthier omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio than regular milk. The reason is that organically raised cows eat more omega-3 rich grasses than conventional cows that are fed mostly corn based feeds.

Recent indications are that diets high in omega-6 fatty acids from vegetable sources like corn and safflower have a “higher risk of death from all causes, as well as from cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease,” compared to an average diet, according to a BMJ article, Study Raises Questions About Dietary Fats and Heart Disease Guidance. Time magazine also reported a similar finding in their article, Omega-6 Fats Linked to Increased Risk of Heart Disease.

That’s why researchers are trying to find foods that have a higher omega-3 fat content. Whole milk has been identified as a food that increases the risk of heart disease due to its high saturated fat content. This new study, however, is suggesting that organic whole milk may be heart healthy. It suggests that the higher omega-3 content of organic whole milk offsets the bad effects of the saturated fats.

The Los Angeles Times has quoted the lead author of the new study, Charles Benbrook, in their report, Organic Whole Milk Provides Best Heart-Health Benefits, as stating that “Consumers are going to get the full measure of this benefit in organic milk if they buy whole milk.” He suggests that organic whole milk can help reduce the risk of heart disease with a more healthy balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

The problem with reduced fat or fat free organic milk is that some of the healthy omega-3 fats are also removed along with the saturated fats. To get the full benefit of the increased levels of omega-3 fats in organic milk, you have to drink the full fat version.

The study looked at organic milk from the Organic Valley brand. Milk was selected from 14 commercial milk processors from 7 U.S. regions – Northwest region, California, Rocky Mountains, Texas, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast regions. They analyzed samples from each processor once a month for 18 months.

If you still prefer vegetable sources of omega-3 fats, your best choices are ground flax seed and chia seeds. Walnuts, soy foods, pumpkin seeds and canola also are good sources of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, according to the Cleveland Clinic, Plant Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids.

Good animal sources include the cold water ocean fish like sardines, salmon, herring and tuna. If you’re a milk lover, you should now consider drinking organic whole milk to get a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids.

If you drink milk, this new study suggests you consider switching to organic full fat milk to receive heart health benefits of an increased level of omega-3 fatty acids. Other animal sources of omega-3 fats are cold water ocean fish. You can also get large amounts of these healthy fats from vegetable sources like ground flax seeds and chia seeds along with walnuts, soy foods, pumpkin seeds and canola. Whatever source you choose, it’s best to increase your omega-3 intake to offset the negative health effects of omega-6 fatty acids.

A hidden conclusion of this study is that you may not be eating a heart healthy diet by unselectively choosing vegetable source fats. If the fats that you’re consuming have an unhealthy omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, you may be risking an increased risk of heart disease. To offset the negative health effects of omega-6 fats, you need to include good sources of omega-3 fats. If you’re drinking milk, organic whole milk may be better for you than regular low fat milk.

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