The Nutritional Benefits of Organic Dairy

Do you think eating organic is better for you? This series shares some of the science behind the nutritional benefits of organic foods. First up: fruits and vegetables. Part two covers organic dairy and part three goes into pesticide residues.

Dr. Jessica Shade opens in a new tab is the Director of Science Programs for The Organic Center opens in a new tab, a non-profit research and education organization focused on evidence-based science about the environmental and health benefits of organic food and farming.

Do you think eating organic is better for you? Recent studies are backing up what many thought: organic foods do indeed have a healthier nutritional profile than their conventional counterparts. And they’re also lower in pesticide residues.

This series will share some of the science behind the nutritional benefits of organic foods. This post covers organic dairy. Read about organic fruits and vegetables here opens in a new tab. Part three goes into pesticide residues opens in a new tab

Did you know?

  • Organic dairy animals must be pasture-grazed throughout the grazing season.

  • All of the supplemental feed organic dairy animals are fed must be organic, including no persistent pesticide use.

  • Organic dairy animals are raised without antibiotics or endocrine disrupting chemicals such as hormones and steroids.

  • Organic dairy products have higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids than conventional dairy.

Nutritional benefits of organic dairy are clear.

When it comes to organic dairy, there’s a lot of research showing the nutritional benefits. For example, studies show that organic dairy has a healthier omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio than conventionally produced milk.

The most recent study opens in a new tab found that organic milk contained 25% less omega-6 fatty acids and 62% more omega-3 fatty acids than conventional milk. That’s a good thing. You want higher omega-3 and lower omega-6 fatty acids to help maintain cardiovascular health and to support your immune system.

The findings of this study aren’t new, however. As early as 2006 published research opens in a new tab supported the healthier omega fatty acid profiles of organic milk. The average western diet has an excess of omega-6 fatty acids, so switching to organic milk may be a good step to getting that ratio more in line.

Another benefit of organic dairy: no antibiotics allowed.

The agricultural use of antibiotics has been in the news a lot lately because of the rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

A 2013 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report opens in a new tab shows that in the United States, over 2 million illnesses and 23 thousand deaths are caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria every year, and the World Health Organization opens in a new tab declared antibiotic-resistant bacteria a global epidemic.

In conventional agriculture, antibiotics aren’t just used to treat infections in animals. The majority of antibiotics used in agriculture are given to promote growth because they can increase an animal’s rate of weight gain by 3-5%.

In their report, the CDC state: “the use of antibiotics for promoting growth is not necessary, and the practice should be phased out.” More from the CDC:

According to data published by FDA opens in a new tab, there are more kilograms of antibiotics sold in the United States for food-producing animals than for people. This use contributes to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in food-producing animals. Resistant bacteria in food-producing animals are of particular concern because these animals serve as carriers.

In June, The American Medical Association (AMA) adopted a resolution calling for the ban of antibiotics used in animal farming for growth promotion. David Wallinga, a physician on the Keep Antibiotics Working steering committee, states, “As much as 70% of the use in agriculture is unnecessary or overuse.” 

Several studies have shown that you can reduce your exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria through choosing organic opens in a new tab. And organic production methods eliminate the farm animals’ exposure to antibiotics as well.

So, now you know: no persistent pesticides or added hormones, a better omega fatty acid profile, and reduced exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.  The choice for organic dairy is simple!

Is nutrition one of your reasons for eating organic? What else makes organic important to you?

References and additional info:


Explore More