Sometimes it’s hard to spot quality, and sometimes it’s easy. In stem cell treatments it can be hard for consumers, but from speaking to patients, by just digging under the hood a little, many patients find that despite appearances, there is no substance. Food is a similar thing. We all sometimes forget the changes that have been made to allow for modern industrial scale ranching and farming. Many of those changes have altered the quality of our food—case in point is a recent research study showing the lack of omega-3 content in industrially raised beef and milk.
There’s a great adaption on Hulu right now of the Stephen King novel 11/22/63, which is a time-travel thriller set around the JFK assassination. One of the characters who has been back to that time from ours tells another, “Hey food tastes better…man everything tastes better.” This, of course, is a reference to what our food system was like before fast-food chains and big agriculture turned our local rancher or farmer into a factory-scale operation.
Is organic milk and meat better for you? It’s not hard to be a skeptic, There are those who “don’t buy the hype” or who believe “organic” is a ploy to get us all to spend a little more cash on a label. If you are one of those skeptics, we hope you’ll keep reading about a new study with 3 sound reasons organic milk and meat is better for you.
1. Organic Milk and Meat Has More Beneficial Fatty Acids
Essential fatty acids, such as omega-3s, are imperative to brain development and maintenance, keep our nervous system functioning appropriately, aid in optimal cell health, provide energy, support immunity, and help us stay satiated so we don’t overeat. They’re also critical as a natural anti-inflammatory that combats those middle- and old-age aches and pains.
A recent study analyzed 196 studies on milk and 67 on meat. It was conducted by experts at Newcastle University and published in the British Journal of Nutrition. The study found 50% more omega-3 fatty acids in organic milk and meats than in conventional sources. An impressive 39% more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) was also found in organic milk. CLA is also a fatty acid, and it has been shown to help reduce tumors and combat inflammation, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and many other harmful diseases and conditions.
The study reported, “Overall, it can be concluded that a switch from intensive conventional to organic production standards will result in substantive improvements in milk fat composition, especially in the supply of nutritionally desirable VLC n-3 PUFA [very long-chain fatty acids—the good kind].” It stands to reason that we would want to include the richest sources of omega-3 and CLA in our diet, and organic milk is a key staple for these essential fatty acids.
2. Organic Milk and Meat Has Higher Concentrations of Antioxidants
In the study, higher concentrations of antioxidants were also found in organic milk and included vitamin E and carotenoids. Antioxidants are like battle shields protecting our cells from the attack of the free radicals, the hostile troops who want to damage or destroy our healthy cells and claim victory for cancer, heart disease, and other ugly diseases.
Vitamin E is one of those jack-of-all-trades antioxidants that’s used as a treatment or preventative for heart disease, high blood pressure, a variety of cancers, premenstrual syndrome, chronic fatigue, ulcers, and so much more.
Carotenoids are the compounds in plants, such as tomatoes, carrots, and kale, that give them their vivid color. Grass-fed cows consume carotenoids through their natural diet, and those carotenoids are passed on to us through their milk. To meet the USDA qualification and labeling requirements for organic, cows must be pasture fed at least 120 days per year. With most factory-farmed cattle being fed an all-grain diet, it’s easy to see why we’d find more carotenoids in organic milk. Carotenoids also behave as antioxidants, and their effects are enhanced when combined with vitamin E, also in high concentrations in organic milk.
3. Organic Milk and Meat Has Less Iodine Fortification
The study showed 74% more iodine (iodide) in conventional milk, and while at first glance, less iodide in organic milk would seem to be a negative aspect, the truth is, there is a thin line between too little and too much iodide. Iodide is the form of iodine we can safely eat. Once we have taken in iodide, our thyroid converts it to iodine through a process called iodination, so iodide is essential to proper thyroid function.
In the United States, we don’t see a lot of iodine deficiency because we eat a lot of food rich in iodide, such as eggs, salmon, and potatoes. Even our table salt is iodized. In some parts of the world, however, where the soil is lacking or nutrition is poor, iodine deficiency is common.
The study reported, “Although there is a focus on overcoming iodine deficiency in some countries and sectors of society, there is also concern that excessive concentrations of iodine in milk and dairy products could result in thyrotoxicosis and other adverse health effects in both livestock and humans.” So we have to be careful to maintain the proper iodine balance because excess iodine in our bodies can cause the thyroid gland to swell, known as a goiter.
Unless you are in an area of the world where iodide is lacking in your diet, the lower amount of iodide in organic milk should not be a concern. If you are in the United States or somewhere with abundant sources of iodide-rich foods, the lower amount of iodide in organic milk is likely a benefit.
How Do I Know My Milk and Meat Is Really Organic?
That’s a good question, and it has a pretty clear answer. In order to qualify for the USDA ORGANIC label (the little green-and-white circle), there are some guidelines that must be met. These include time requirements that livestock must spend pasture grazing, and a specific percentage of their diet must consist of pasture grass. There must be no chemicals or pesticides used where cows feed, and no genetically modified (non-GMO) seeds can be used. Livestock may not receive any hormones or antibiotics. At the grocery store, look for this label on milk and meat products.
Possibly a better option, however, if you are lucky enough to have a dairy farm close by, would be to get your milk and meat directly from the source. Get to know the farmer and his or her staff. Watch firsthand the cows grazing in the pastures. Be sure to ask questions though; just because their cows are pasture fed doesn’t make it a given that their milk and meat is organic. They may still use pesticides in their pastures or give their cows hormones. In this case, you’re better off getting store-bought certified organic milk and meat. Questions you might ask at your local dairy farm include the following:
- What percentage of your cows’ diets come from pasture grasses?
- How many days a year do your cows graze?
- Do you use any chemicals or pesticides on your pastures?
- Do you seed your fields with any genetically modified seeds?
- Do your cows receive any hormones or antibiotics?
The upshot? It’s no hype! Organic milk and meat, and organic food in general, is better for you. It all hearkens back to time before we turned our food supply into a huge factory!