Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Milk

A recent study by Dr. Charles Benbrook of Washington State University has sparked debate on the health benefits of organic milk vs regular milk. As a Registered Dietitian, I welcome any study that encourages people to drink more milk because of its health benefits, particularly heart health. However, I did want to address some questions that have been raised about this study.

In a nutshell, Dr. Benbrook’s study found that full-fat (whole) organic milk has a higher ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids than conventionally produced whole milk, which is thought to have a beneficial affect on heart health, but remains a topic of debate. While the results appear to show small differences between the two, the study cannot explain why this is so, nor if it impacts a person’s blood levels of the fatty acids or overall health. Additionally, the study did not look at the fatty acids’ impact in relation to other nutrients in the diet. This is important because nutrients often work synergistically and not individually in the body.

The reality is that dairy is not a primary source of either omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids. The main sources for both in the American diet is vegetable oils, so changing either the types or amounts of those oils would be a more effective way to alter one’s ratio of omega fatty acids in the diet than changing the type of milk consumed.

Additionally, this study only addresses full-fat (whole) milk. As a Registered Dietitian, I support the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendations to consume three servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy products every day as part of a healthy diet. Lower fat versions of dairy products contain the same nutrient package as full-fat products, but with fewer calories, which is important in light of our country’s obesity epidemic.

At the end of the day, any type of milk, along with other dairy products, is an important part of the diet because of its powerful nutrient package including calcium, vitamin D and protein.

Lanier Dabruzzi, MS, RD, LD