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Health benefits of organic milk worth the cost?

(istockphoto)

Headlines last week declared that organic milk is more nutritious than regular milk after a new study found it has more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. The implication: It's worth it to spend an extra $2 to $3 a gallon to buy organic brands.

But here's the fine print: The difference in omega-3 content was small and applied to whole milk, not skim milk — which contains no fat. What's more, Organic Valley, a cooperative that sells organic dairy products, provided the main funding for the study, and one of its employees was a coauthor.

While that doesn't necessarily discount the findings — published in the journal PLoS One — it does call into question the sweeping recommendations made by the study authors that people increase their intake of "fat-containing" and "predominantly organic" dairy products. Switching to organic full-fat milk, butter, and cheese, the authors wrote, "should improve long-term health status and outcomes."

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Boston University nutrition professor Joan Salge Blake told me these conclusions amounted to a load of cow dung. "I don't think organic milk is worth the extra money," she said, "and the last thing people should do is switch to fattier dairy products because they contain a lot of heart-damaging saturated fat and a lot more calories than skim milk."