I wanted to spend the next few blog posts going over why exclusively grassfed dairy products are in my opinion so much better than similar products from grain-fed cattle. I know that for a lot of you reading this, the information may be old hat, but the fact is, on an almost daily basis I come into contact with people who don’t know why grassfed is better. To be sure, I believe there is a basic understanding that grassfed is a superior choice, but now it's time to learn the many reasons why.
This brings about an obvious question—is it really important that people understand why grassfed is better as long as they already believe it? In this case, I believe the answer is yes for a reason that may surprise you. You see, for so long now, the general public has been sold on the idea that conventionally raised dairy cattle were fed corn because it made for better dairy products. This, of course, is not the case at all. Cattle have been fed grain and more often grain byproducts for decades now in order to produce a larger volume of dairy per cow for less cost.
It’s no secret that grassfed dairy products are pricier than their conventional counterparts. When you choose to consume grassfed dairy, you’re making a value decision. You value the health and ecological benefits of the products enough to pay more. And there’s the rub. In order to properly value grassfed products, you need to understand why they are a healthier choice.
The Science Behind Grassfed Health
Over the next few weeks, I am going to blog about why feeding cattle grass or more properly termed pasture or forage is better for them and better for the environment. Today I want to focus on why grassfed is healthier for you. And make no mistake about it—in my opinion, grassfed dairy is healthier by a seemingly exponential margin.
For starters, according to several studies, grassfed dairy has more omega-3 fatty acids, more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and more vitamin E than conventional dairy. (1,2,3) Is more better? In the case of all of these, the answer is a resounding yes. CLA has been a scientific darling over the last decade, with studies that show it can both reduce body fat by increasing lean muscle mass. (4) It has also been shown to support a healthy immune system response (5).
Omega-3 fatty acids and their benefits have been known for some time now (hence the wild fish and fish oil supplement craze.) Grassfed cattle have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids and lower levels of omega-6 fatty acids. Several studies have shown that this correlation is vitally important for heart and brain health, as well as for promoting a healthy inflammatory response (6,7,8).
While it’s often under-appreciated these days, vitamin E, a powerful fat-soluble antioxidant, is also an important health promoter. The most recent studies on vitamin E focus on the positive relationship between increased vitamin E consumption and decreased decline in mental function. (9)
The science is clear—grassfed dairy is healthier than dairy from cattle fed grain. That alone should answer the “value question.” As I’m fond of stating, you can pay the farmer more now or the doctor later.
1. Galina MA, Osnaya F, Cuchillo HM, et al. Cheeese quality from milk of grazing or indoor fed Zebu cows and Alpine crossbred goats. Small Ruminant Research, Volume 71, Issues 1-3, August 2007, Pages 264-272
2. Liesbeth A Smit, Ana Baylin, and Hannia Campos. Conjugated linoleic acid in adipose tissue and risk of myocardial infarction. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, July 2010 ajcn.29524
3. The Linear Relationship between the Proportion of Fresh Grass in the Cow Diet, Milk Fatty Acid Composition, and Butter Properties. Journal of Dairy Science, 2006. 89:1956–1969.
4. Chin et al, "Dietary Sources of Conjugated Dienic Isomers of Linoleic Acid, a Newly Recognized Class of Anticarcinogens." Journal of Food Composition and Analysis 5:185-197 1992
5. Efficacy of conjugated linoleic acid for reducing fat mass: a meta-analysis in humans. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, May 2007 vol. 85 no. 5 1203-1211
6. 4. Simopoulos AP. The omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid ratio, genetic variation, and cardiovascular disease. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition , 2008;17 Suppl 1:131-4.
7. 5. Simopoulos AP. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. 2002 Oct;56(8):365-79.
8. 6. Raphael W1, Sordillo LM. Dietary polyunsaturated fatty acids and inflammation: the role of phospholipid biosynthesis. International Journal Molecular Sciences. 2013 Oct 22;14(10):21167-88. doi: 10.3390/ijms141021167.
9. 9. The TEAM-AD VA Cooperative Randomized Trial. Effect of Vitamin E and Memantine on Functional Decline in Alzheimer Disease. The Journal of the American Medical Association. January 1, 2014, Vol 311, No. 1