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Ask the RD

Question: I recently saw a carton of milk labeled “Grass-Fed Milk.” Is that simply organic milk from cows that are pasture raised? Is there anything I should know about it?

Answer: Grass-fed milk, or grass milk, is organic milk that comes from cows that
are fed mostly grass and never corn, soy or other grains. (“Pasture raised” simply means the cows grazed for a minimum of 120 days on pasture.) In addition, grass-fed milk is minimally processed, which means it is not homogenized (cream will be floating on top) and is only lightly pasteurized (it may have a shorter shelf life grass-fed). Despite all of this, after being stirred to emulsify the cream, grass-fed milk tastes just like regular milk.

Grass-fed milk is relatively new to the market and has been well received by health-conscious consumers who are drawn to minimally processed products that they feel have simpler ingredients. Keep in mind that while there are federal regulations to protect standards for grass-fed beef and certified organic products, there are no regulations in place for grass-fed dairy.

There is certainly a case to be made for the environmental and agricultural benefits of grass-fed dairy; however, its nutritional advantages are still being sorted out. The main benefit seems to be a higher omega-3 fatty-acid content. And while grass-fed milk definitely has more omega-3 fatty acids than conventional/nonorganic milk does, the fatty-acid levels in organic milk can be similar to those in grass-fed milk—and both have less than omega-3 fortified milk (see the table).

Grass-fed milk and nonfortified organic milk are decent sources of omega-3 fatty acids but do not contain enough to make a big difference in intake. And remember, low-fat and skim versions offer negligible amounts of these fatty acids. Ultimately, choose grass-fed milk for its texture (many people prefer the mouthfeel of nonhomogenized milk) and for the fact that it is minimally processed and better for the environment.

Source Quantity Omega-3 Fatty-Acid Content
organic milk 1 cup 64 mg
grass-fed milk 1 cup 65–150 mg
omega-3 fortified organic milk 1 cup 225–300 mg
salmon 3 ounces 1,500 mg

The American Heart Association recommends a daily intake of 1,000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids for those living with heart disease and 500 mg a day for all others.

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