Agri Leader

Weighing in on organic whole milk

Is the glass for organic whole fat milk half full or half empty?

It might depend on your nutritional preferences and your budget.

A study published in the December issue of the journal PLOS One reported that organic whole milk offered more beneficial omega 3 fatty acids than conventional milk.

“Averaged over 12 months, organic milk contained 25 percent less omega 6 fatty acids and 62 percent more omega 3 fatty acids than conventional milk,” wrote the U.S.- and U.K.-based researchers. To refresh your memory, we ought to consume more omega 3 than omega 6 acids.

The concentration alpha-linolenic, eicosapentaenoic, and docosapentaenoic acids were all higher in organic whole milk. The researchers added that organic milk provides more of these fatty acids than seafood, the latter of which is famous for its omega 3 concentration. However, organic whole milk only had negligibly higher docosahexaenoic acid than seafood.

One difference with organic farms is that the cows typically rely on pasture- and forage-based feed, which changes the fatty acid profile of its dairy products, the researchers reported. They did note that some conventional dairies feed their cows a similar diet.

By consuming more organic dairy options, including organic whole milk, we’ll increase our consumption of heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids, the researchers concluded.

Let’s discuss.

First, there’s no question that organic milk has become more popular. In 2012, organic fluid milk product sales increased by about 15 percent compared with the previous year, according to federal statistics. There seemed to be a particularly high increase in the purchase of whole fat and reduced fat organic milk.

At the same time, organic milk is usually more expensive. A half gallon of Stonyfield Farms Organic Whole Fat Milk was $3.78 at my Walmart earlier this month versus $2.48 for a conventional store brand half gallon.

Then, there’s the health issue. Either organic or conventional milk can be part of a healthy diet, said Alyssa Greenstein, RD, LD/N, senior manager of nutrition affairs with the Dairy Council of Florida in Altamonte Springs. “Both contain the same unique combination of nutrients that make dairy foods an important part of a healthy diet…Florida dairy farms work with animal nutritionists to develop a balanced diet for their cows, including grasses and forages,” she said. Even though there are no organic dairy farms in Florida, some farms use a modified grazing technique, she added.

I know that some dairy farms in our state, such as Dakin Dairy Farms in Myakka City, will raise their cows as sustainably as possible but don’t make the final step of obtaining an organic certification, due to the extra cost and work involved.

Now let’s talk nutrition. Although Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson Sarah Krieger, a St. Petersburg-based dietitian and nutritionist, will recommend whole milk to infants and breast-feeding mothers, she said that her colleagues hesitate to suggest that everyone drink up.

“We’re still hung up on the saturated fat, and so is the American Heart Association. Saturated fat should be 10 percent or less of your calories. If you eat 2,000 calories a day, that’s 20 grams. One cup of milk has five grams of saturated fat,” she said.

Then you need to think about other foods in your diet that may have saturated fat, including other dairy items like ice cream, yogurt and cheese, as well as non-dairy items like bacon and burgers. Would you rather save your saturated fat quotient for milk or the other items?

“If you love whole milk, go for it, but keep the big dietary picture in mind,” she said.