A new data review shows that organic meat and milk differ substantially from their conventionally produced counterparts with regards to nutrition. According to the findings, which led to the publication of two studies on Tuesday, organic meat and milk contain 50 percent more omega-3 fatty acids than conventionally raised meat and milk.
This important discovery is essential in helping people make healthy choices when it comes to the purchase of milk and meat. “Omega-3s are linked to reductions in cardiovascular disease, improved neurological development and function, and better immune function,” says Chris Seal, professor of food and human nutrition at Newcastle University. He notes that Western European diets, much like American diets, are too low in these fatty acids. “Our study suggests that switching to organic would go some way towards improving intakes of these important nutrients.”
The higher levels of omega-3 fats in organic meat and milk are directly linked to the grazing time outdoors for organic livestock who are fed diets rich in grass–omega-3s are more prevalent in grass than in grain–instead of the grain-based diets fed to conventionally-raised cows.
“It’s not something magical about organic,” said Charles M. Benbrook, an organic industry consultant and one of the authors of the studies. “It’s about what the animals are being fed.”
The review also found that the levels of fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin E and carotenoids as well as CLA were higher in organic milk and meat, whereas levels of saturated fats like myristic and palmistic acids and omega-6 were slightly lower in organic meat and dairy. Humans should consume omega-3 and omega-6 in roughly equal amounts, and yet most Americans eat more than 10 times as much omega-6, a New York Times Blog article on the studies contended.
The study also found 74 percent more iodine in conventional milk than in organic milk. “There is a relatively narrow margin between dietary Iodine deficiency (<140µg/day) and excessive intakes (> 500µg/day) from our diet which can lead to thyrotoxicoxis,” explains Gillian Butler, a senior lecturer in animal nutrition at Newcastle University and one of the authors of the studies. This is particularly concerning in the US, where table salt tends to be iodized.
The New York Times Blog article analyzing this information explained that the review was “certain to further stir a combative debate over whether organic foods are healthier,” something that some scientists continue to say is not the case.
Yet this is not the first example of research showing that organic food is healthier. Two years ago, Carlo Leifert, the leader of the review and a professor of ecological agriculture at Newcastle University in England, led a similar review, finding that organic fruits and vegetables had higher levels of some antioxidants than their conventionally grown counterparts.
The review is composed of two new scientific papers, both of which were published in the British Journal of Nutrition. The review did not include new data, but involved rather the analysis of 263 disparate studies on milk and meat from around the world.
The review was paid for jointly by the European Commission and Sheepdrove Trust, a British charity that supports organic farming research. The study cost about $600,000 to carry out.
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Grazing cows image via Shutterstock