The label “grass-fed” refers to cows who have grazed in pasture year-round rather than being fed a processed diet (usually consisting of corn) for much of their lives. Grass feeding greatly improves the quality of the cow’s milk and helps it maintain more of its naturally ocurring omega-3 fats, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).
Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) Fatty Acids
The amount of CLA found in the milk derived from 100% grass-fed cows is typically two to five times greater than milk found in conventionally-fed cows. CLA is a type of fat that has various health benefits, including immune and inflammatory system support, improved bone mass, improved blood sugar regulation, reduced body fat, reduced risk of heart attack, and maintenance of lean body mass. According to recent studies, grass-fed cow’s milk contains 75 milligrams of CLA from an eight-ounce serving.
The omega-3 fat content derived from grass-fed cow’s milk is dependent on the variety of forage crops accessible to the animal. This omega-3 content also varies with the age, breed and health of the cow. For instance, you can get anywhere from 50-150 milligrams of omega-3s (in the form of alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA) in 8 ounces of grass-fed cow’s milk.
The overall fat composition of grass-fed milk is not what you may think. In eight ounces of whole grass-fed cow’s milk there are eight grams of total fat. About two grams (25%) of this comes from monounsaturated fat in the form of oleic acid. This omega-9 fatty acid is the primary fatty acid found in olive oil. Replacing this fatty acid with other fats can lead to lowered blood and cholesterol levels. About four and a half grams (or 56%) come from saturated fat – a type of fat that is thought to have unwanted ramifications. However, the type of saturated fat in 100% grass-fed cow’s milk does not fall into the “bad” fat category. About six to seven percent of this saturated fat is “short-chain” and functions as a probiotic that supports friendly bacteria in the GI tract.
Cows are not meant to eat a grain diet. Their digestive system, the rumen, is designed to eat grass, break down cellulose and turn it into protein. When you take a cow off pasture it creates a domino effect of problems. As author and activist Michael Pollan explains, “You start giving (cows) antibiotics, because as soon as you give them corn, you’ve disturbed their digestion, and they’re apt to get sick, so you then have to give them drugs. Then we then go down this path of technological fixes.” As you can see, it’s process that unfolds in direct contrast to what nature had intended. But as we’ve learned, educated consumers have the power to choose. When you consume grass-fed dairy products, you’re not only improving your health but your supporting the health and well-being of the those animals too – a classic win-win situation.