A recent Washington State University study, Organic Production Enhances Milk Nutritional Quality by Shifting Fatty Acid Composition: A United States-Wide, 18-Month Study provides new insight to a qualitative comparison of organic versus conventional milk production methods. Charles Benbrook and his team of researchers’ collected the data for the study from 384 milk samples, from seven United States regions, produced from January 2011 to June 2012. The results: they discovered an unprecedented disparity, driven by production method, between Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acid ratios present in each.
Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids are both essential polyunsaturated nutrients to the body. Since humans cannot naturally produce either nutrient, they must be consumed through food. Presence of both fatty acid types supports healthy cell walls, regulates blood flow, and maintains proper brain and nerve function. Most importantly, a healthy Omega acid balance promotes heart health and minimizes stroke risk. An optimal ω-6/ω-3 level hovers from two to five; a diet high in fried foods and baked goods typically results in an ω-6/ω-3 ratio near 20. When the presence of one dominates the other, the body is unable to balance itself and health risks arise. For example, excessive linoleic acid (LA), a main component of Omega-6 nutrient, hinders successful conversation of the main Omega-3 component, Alpha-linolenic acid. Alpha-linolenic acid is critical to brain and eye development, as well as proper functioning of the neurological system.
While the fatty acids in all milk fat help to maintain healthy ratios of ω-6/ω-3, the WSU research team and study concludes that organic milk is preferable as a fatty acid regulator. According to the study, the key factor influencing fatty acid milk composition is a cow’s diet, “especially the portion of daily dry matter intake that comes from pasture and forage-based feeds, as opposed to grains, corn silage and other high-energy feedstuffs.” The diets of the animals we consume and evolution of the typical American diet has pushed the ω-6/ω-3 ratio upward.
Both conventional and organic milk has a ω-6/ω-3 ratio far below the average of the typical American diet (10-15). The key finding of the WSU study was that organic milk has a ratio of 2.28 compared to the 5.8 conventional milk average. Differences between organic and conventional Omega acid ratios rarely exceed 30 percent, making the differences found in Benbrook’s study among the largest ever documented.