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Organic meats and milks may actually be better for your health than their non-organic counterparts.
That’s the takeaway from new review of more than 250 research papers by Newcastle University. The review, which will be published in the British Journal of Nutrition, found that organic meat and milk contain about 50 percent more omega-3 fatty acids than “regular” meat and milk, despite having the same amount of calories and saturated fat.
Omega-3 fatty acids are noted for their anti-inflammatory effect and have been linked to lower rates of depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and arthritis.
Among other findings, researchers discovered that two cups of organic milk provide 16 percent of the recommended daily intake of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, while the regular milk provides 11 percent. Scientists also found that there were higher levels of fat-soluble vitamins — such as vitamin E and carotenoids — in organic milk, as well as lower levels of certain saturated fatty acids in organic meat.
Lead study author Carlo Leifert, a professor of ecological agriculture at Newcastle University, tells Yahoo Health that the nutritional difference his study discovered is largely due to what the cows eat. Organic cattle forage more on omega-3 rich grass and clover and less on the corn and soy their non-organic counterparts consume.
But there may be other factors at play, he says. “The use of lower milking frequencies and more robust traditional breeds was also shown in some studies to contribute to the higher omega-3 levels in organic milk,” said Leifert.
Why does this matter? We don’t get enough long chain omega-3 fatty acids in our diet, Leifert says.
He notes that the European Food Safety Authority recommends that people double their intake of omega-3 fatty acids, and buying organic meat and milk might be an easy way to do it. “Given that milk and meat account for more than half of long-chain omega-3 intake, especially in people eating very little fish, this must be good,” he says. “But how good we still have to quantify.”
The study findings are important “because inflammation is a factor in the development of many chronic illnesses,” New York City registered dietitian Jessica Cording tells Yahoo Health.
She says the new study makes a stronger case for buying the organic versions of these products, and specifically looking for beef and milk from cows that are grass-fed. “If grass-fed is in your budget, go for it,” she says. “Just keep in mind that current labeling laws make it possible for a company to state that their cows are grass-fed even if they’ve spent very little time feeding on grass.” Her recommendation: Check containers for “100 percent grass-fed.”
Leifert says he hopes his work will help people make better-informed decisions about shopping for organic food.