Organic milk and meat contain around 50% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than conventionally produced products, a new study by Newcastle University has found.
After analysing 196 papers on milk and 67 on meat, the researchers found clear differences between organic and conventional milk and meat.
These differences were especially clear in terms of fatty acid composition and the concentrations of certain essential minerals and antioxidants.
The findings were published in the British Journal of Nutrition and the data shows that a switch to organic meat and milk would go some way towards increasing our intake of nutritionally important fatty acids.
Chris Seal, Professor of Food and Human Nutrition at Newcastle University said that Omega-3s are linked to reductions in cardiovascular disease, improved neurological development and function, and better immune function.
"Western European diets are recognised as being too low in these fatty acids and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommends we should double our intake.
"But getting enough in our diet is difficult. Our study suggests that switching to organic would go some way towards improving intakes of these important nutrients."
Most importantly, it found that a switch from conventional to organic would raise omega-3 fat intake without increasing calories and undesirable saturated fat.
For example, half a litre of organic full fat milk (or equivalent fat intakes from other dairy products like butter and cheese) provides an estimated 16% (39 mg) of the recommended, daily intake of very long-chain omega-3, while conventional milk provides 11% (25 mg).
Other positive changes in fat profiles included lower levels of myristic and palmitic acid in organic meat and a lower omega-6/omega-3 ratio in organic milk.
Higher levels of fat soluble vitamins such as vitamin E and carotenoids and 40% more CLA in organic milk were also observed by the researchers.
The study showed that the more desirable fat profiles in organic milk were closely linked to outdoor grazing and low concentrate feeding in dairy diets, as prescribed by organic farming standards.
Newcastle University’s Professor Carlo Leifert, who led the studies, said that people choose organic milk and meat for three main reasons: improved animal welfare, the positive impacts of organic farming on the environment, and the perceived health benefits.
"But much less is known about impacts on nutritional quality, hence the need for this study.
"Several of these differences stem from organic livestock production and are brought about by differences in production intensity, with outdoor-reared, grass-fed animals producing milk and meat that is consistently higher in desirable fatty acids such as the omega-3s, and lower in fatty acids that can promote heart disease and other chronic diseases."