For the first few months of our lives, trusty milk is the sole source of nutrition we receive. Milk continues to nourish us as we continue to grow and develop and is integral to bone health and soft tissue integrity. It comes in a variety of different forms ranging from UHT, corn fed, non-organic, organic and grass fed to name a few. The way cattle are reared and fed can impact on the quality of life a cow has, but also the quality of its meat, and in particular its milk. Milk is an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and protein and if dietary beliefs permit, should constitute around 1/9 of your diet, 1/3 fruit and veg, 1/3 starchy carbs, and the final 3rd approx split between meat and poultry, high sugar/fat and dairy.
Grass feeding is a practice designed to maximise the quality of life for cows, as well as improve the nutritional value of their milk (not necessarily in that order of preference). In order to label milk ‘grass fed’ the cows have to have grazed in pasture all year round as opposed to being commercially fed grains and processed foods. The consumption of nothing but grass improves the nutritional value of the cow’s milk making it higher in omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin E, beta-carotene and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). In terms of nutritional density it is best to consume full fat grass fed milk because it’s the type of milk that undergoes the least amount of processing, meaning it retains more of its essential fatty acids and vitamins. Conventionally we are advised to go with skimmed/ 1 or 2% fat milk because of the inherent saturated fat content of full fat milk.
Through maintaining the CLA levels in grass fed milk you stand to reap the benefits it has to offer to fat loss, immune response, reduced inflammation, bone mineral density and regulated blood sugar levels. CLA levels in grass fed milk can be up to 2-5 times that of commercially fed cow’s milk, so it pays to include this in your diet.
Despite the term ‘grass fed’, cows do not necessarily only eat grass per se, other forms of foliage are available to the beasts meaning the omega 3 levels vary from batch to batch of grass fed milk. However, the fatty acid levels (predominantly Alpha Linoleic Acid or ALA) are still going to exceed that of commercially fed milk meaning you could reduce inflammation within the body, as well as support the integrity of joint and connective tissue as well as heart health. Grass fed milk has a lower ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids falling into the ideal ratio of 2:1 omega 3 to 6. As a nation, the ratios of omega 3 to 6 are skewed, therefore grass fed cow’s milk should go some way to regulating that.
The Worlds Healthiest Foods, (2013). Cow’s Milk, Grass Fed. Retrieved 21st June, 2013, from http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=130
Agricultural Research Service, (2011). Putting Cows Out to Pasture: An Environmental Plus. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. Agricultural Research Magazine, vol. 59(5): pages 18-19.