If you drink cow’s milk or if your children drink cow’s milk, do you need to spend the money on organic? Or is conventional cow’s milk the same? Let’s dive into science-backed research on organic milk versus conventional milk. And if you’re lactose intolerant, let’s examine the best options for lactose-free milk.
The golden rule in the United States is we start drinking cow’s milk on our first birthday with the continuation through our adult life. While cow’s milk is not the only option for all of us (see my article on plant-milks and Ripple milk), it is often recommended due to its high nutrient content. If you do choose to drink cow’s milk, make sure you are drinking the healthiest cow’s milk for your family.
Let’s start with Whole Milk and Reduced-Fat Milk. Is one Better?
Between the ages of 12-23 months, give whole milk. Toddlers need the fat in whole milk for brain development and growth. Whole milk is still okay after age 2, especially if your toddler is active and not overweight. However, reduced-fat milk may be a better option with increased childhood obesity. Reduced fat versus whole milk also depends on how much milk your child drinks daily. Too much whole milk can fill a little one’s stomach, decreasing their appetite for solid foods.
For adults, drinking reduced fat versus whole milk depends on your nutritional needs. With many people struggling with weight and metabolic diseases, reduced fat or skim milk is a great choice. One cup of whole milk contains around 4.6 grams of saturated fat. Saturated fat is the type of fat that can clog arteries. The additional fat also adds extra calories, contributing to weight gain.
Organic Milk versus Conventional Milk – Which is Healthier?
Research studies show organic milk is healthier than non-organic milk.
Organic milk is higher in omega-3’s and other nutrients. Omega-3s are healthy fats. Eating a diet high in omega-3’s can help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, enhance neurological development and function, and improve immune function. According to a large study in the UK, there are around 50% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids in organic milk versus conventional milk.
Fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin E and carotenoids are higher in organic milk. Additionally, there is 40% more CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) in organic milk.
Choosing organic milk increases healthy nutrients without an increase in calories or undesirable saturated fat.
Why does Organic Milk contain a Higher Concentration of Nutrients?
Organic Milk Producing Cow’s Diet is Healthier
Organic crops, in general, contain up to 60% more antioxidants than non-organic crops. Cows that produce organic milk typically graze outdoors. Organic milk-producing cow’s diet comes from around 80 percent forage, with only about 20% from grain and concentrates.
Grass-fed milk comes from cows whose diet comes from 100% forage. Meaning grass-fed cows eat 100% of plants from pasture, crop residue, or immature cereal crops, such as oat and barley. It can also include hay or silage.
Conventional cows receive around 53% of their diet from forage and 47% from grains and concentrate. Over 90 percent of cows in the US are on traditional farms.
Studies on pregnant, breast-feeding mothers, and children found that drinking organic milk versus non-organic milk reduces the risk of eczema during the first two years of life. This may be due to the higher intake of omega-3s and CLA from organic dairy, which may be protective against eczema.
Organic Milk Producing Cow’s versus Conventional Antibiotic Use
While conventional cows have to have all their antibiotics out of their system before producing milk, organic milk-producing cows have never had antibiotics. Conventional cows can be given antibiotics when necessary. Cows producing organic milk lose their organic status if antibiotics are given.
A study from Emory University in Atlanta comparing conventional milk to organic milk found the following in conventional samples:
- 20 times higher residue levels of Bovine growth hormones (bGH)
- 60% of conventional samples contained pesticide residue, including atrazine, chlorpyrifos, cypermethrin, diazinon, and permethrin.
Iodine Content differences
Studies found approximately 74% more iodine in conventional milk versus organic milk. The difference in iodine content is because conventional cows may receive supplements with iodine. While iodine is an important nutrients, most people, especially in the United States, receive an adequate amount through diet alone. Because most table salt is supplemented with iodine.
Which tastes better? Organic Milk or Conventional Milk?
The general consensus is organic milk tastes better than conventional milk. Because of the food organic cows eat, the milk can taste cleaner.
While organic milk is more expensive than conventional milk, organic milk lasts longer due to pasteurization. For some, this can be money-saving.
Is there a best lactose-free milk?
The difference between lactose-free milk and conventional milk, which contains lactase, the enzyme lactose intolerant people lack. The milk producer makes a lactose-free milk by adding lactase to regular milk. Lactose is broken down in lactose-free milk into glucose and galactose. Both are simple sugars and lactose intolerant people are able to digest glucose and galactose. But, since lactase is broken down into simple sugars, lactose-free milk tends to taste sweeter.
There are some organic milk producers that create a lactose free version – Horizon and Organic Valley to name a few. However, you can also buy your favorite regular or organic milk and use Lactase drops to make it lactose-free.
What are people’s favorite milks?
Is there a “best” milk for everyone? Not really because it depends on many factors. One factor is that overall, going organic is the healthiest option.
The largest organic milk suppliers, taking up about 38% of the worldwide market in 2017, include Horizon Organic, Area, Organic Valley, Emma, and Aurora Organic Dairy.
People love consuming local milk from local farmers, organic or non-organic. Many consumers favor local milk as it supports the community and smaller farms have an image of being healthier than larger, more industrial farms.
Additionally following milk brands receive frequent shout-outs when looking at online forums discussing favorite milk, such as Reddit.
- Organic Valley Grassmilk
- Greenwise Organic (Publix)
- Stonyfield Organic Milk
- Maple Hill Organic Milk
There are also a variety of opinion pieces which break down many of the different organic milk brands, so I encourage you to check them out for more detailed information on different milk brands.