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Benefits, Nutrition, & Environmental Health
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Benefits, Nutrition, & Environmental Health

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While milk is a staple of most kitchens it is important that you choose the right type.

Grass-fed milk is gaining popularity due to growing interest in grassfed dairy and its benefits.

Grass-fed milk has higher levels than regular cows milk in some key nutrients. It may also be more sustainable.

This article compares conventional and grass-fed cows milk to show how they differ in terms nutrition, health benefits, sustainability, and environmental impact.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, grass-fed milk refers to milk from cows that were forage-fed. Forage is:1)

  • grass
  • Legumes
  • Brassica, also known as cabbage, cauliflower and turnips, is also known as kale
  • Browse (young shoots & twigs).
  • Cereals in their vegetative state or pre-grain state

Grass-fed cattle must have pasture access during the growing season.1).

While conventional cows are usually fed grain, grass-fed cows eat grass as their main food source and cannot be fed grains or any other grain byproducts. This diet can make the animal healthier and produce a different type of milk than regular dairy products.

Research suggests that grass-fed cows produce milk and cheese with better flavor and creaminess, than those who are fed grain.2).

Although grass-fed milk is often marketed as such, U.S. Grade StandardsDairy products are voluntary. This means that grass-fed milk doesn’t have an official product name.

The American Grassfed Association, however, created its own standards (3).

The group promotes, supports, and advocates for American grass-fed and/or pasture-based farms and ranches from farm to market.


Grass fed milk is milk from cows that have been forage-fed. The American Grassfed Association has independent standards, but there is no official product label.

Not always. Organic milk does not necessarily mean that the cows were fed only grass.

Organic dairy cows eat grass, hay, and grain feed. They have greater living space and more access to pastures than regular milking cows.4). Organic dairy cattle that eat organic cereal produce organic milk but not grass-fed milk.

These cows are not given hormones or antibiotics as they are subject to USDA-mandated organic farming protocols.4).

Each variety of milk has the same calorie and fat contents. The amounts of calcium, carbohydrates, and protein are all identical. This is true for different fats as well.

Regular milk contains more potassium and sodium than regular milk.

Here is the nutrition information for a cup of each type of milk (240 mL).

The total fat content per cup is the same for both grass-fed milk and conventional milk. The most significant difference between the two types is in their fatty acids composition.

Regular milk and organic milk both contain similar amounts of omega-3 fat acids, but grass-fed milk contains more.7).

The fatty acid profile of cattle can be significantly altered by switching from a grain-based diet, to one that is mainly based on grasses and legumes.7).

Particularly, diet can affect the ratio of omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids. This has implications for your health.

A variety of sources claim that humans evolved on a diet that had an omega-6 to 1.5:1 ratio.

Western diets are high-in omega-6s and low-in omega-3s. This results in an imbalanced ratio around 15:1. This is due to the high consumption of processed foods and the limited intake of fish.8).

These are the reported ratios of omega-6 to Omega-3 for each type of milk, based on a 3-year study of 1,163 samples of milk:

Other studies support the belief that grass-fed milk is richer in healthy fatty acids (9).


In terms of calories, total fat and protein, milk from grass-fed cows and grain-fed cows is comparable. However, grass-fed milk has more omega-3s.

Grass-fed milk’s higher levels of omega-3s and its balanced fatty acids profile may help to prevent diet-related chronic diseases (7, 8).

Omega-3 fatty acid has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. They have been shown to improve brain and heart health, and they can reduce symptoms associated with metabolic syndrome (10).

Metabolic syndrome refers to a group of risk factors that increase your chances of developing diabetes, heart disease, or stroke.

A high ratio of omega-6 to Omega-3 increases the risk for inflammation, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and higher body weight.11, 12).

One review suggested that omega-3s could support the immune system and exercise performance of athletes (10).

Omega-3s helped athletes recover faster, lower their risk of getting sick, and gave them better performances in competition. Omega-3s also improve mood10).

Grass-fed cattle produce phytonutrients that are good for your health. These are antioxidants that have the potential to heal and protect.

In fact, cattle that are fed on pasture have many phytonutrients in quantities comparable to those found within plant foods. Phytochemicals can have anti-inflammatory, heart-supporting, and anti-cancer properties.13).


Grass-fed milk has a higher level of omega-3s, which may help to fight inflammation and prevent chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Research has shown that omega-3s also have a positive effect on the immune system, and performance during exercise.

Grass-fed milk is more expensive because they have to maintain a greater acreage to support each cow.

It depends on which brand you choose, but grass-fed milk can be three times more costly than regular milk.

Horizon Organics cartons of grass-fed milk cost about 68c per 8 ounces compared to 20c for regular milk.14, 15).


Because of the higher cost of raising cows on grass, grass-fed milk can be more expensive than regular milk.

Consumers are looking for ethical and environmentally-friendly food options.16).

Grass-fed cows seem to have better health and living conditions than conventionally raised ones. They can roam freely because they are not restricted by space.

The grass-fed movement is based upon a farming technique called regenerative agriculture. It is believed that grazing cattle is vital for a healthy ecosystem. Grazing cattle can also boost soil fertility and grass health, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.17).

However, a grass-fed diet means more grassland, which can lead to deforestation and biodiversity decline.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the deforestation releases billions of tons carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. As a result, every year hundreds of thousands of species of plants and animals die.18).

The sustainability of grass-fed milk is therefore not easy.

One study compared four beef production systems used by California cattle ranchers: grass-fed, grain-fed, and hybrid. Researchers found that grass-fed systems had higher Global Warming Possibilities (GWPs), while requiring less water.19).

Grass-fed cattle are more likely to gain weight and ultimately be slaughtered at lower weights than those fed grain. They are therefore more difficult to farm.

Grass-fed cows are also more likely to produce methane than corn-fed and grain-fed cattle.

To keep up current demand and production rates, 30% additional cattle would be required to convert all beef produced in the United States into grass-fed systems. This conversion would result to an increase in methane emissions of around 8%20).


Grass-fed cattle have better living conditions but may not be as environmentally friendly as grass feeding. Grass-fed cows are more likely to produce methane and use more soil, which can reduce biodiversity. Although research is ongoing, grass feeding may improve pasture health as well as reduce soil erosion and greenhouse gases emissions.

Grass fed milk is made from milk that has been derived from cows who were fed forage. It can also be organic.

Regular and grass-fed milk have similar calorie and fatty content, as well as equal amounts of protein and carbs.

The main nutritional difference between grass-fed and regular milk is that it contains more omega-3s than regular milk. This may help to prevent diet-related chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and other diseases.

However, grass-fed milk can be more expensive and takes more land to produce. This has negative environmental consequences.

Grass-fed dairy products offer many animal welfare benefits. However, there is still some debate about whether grass-fed dairy products support environmental sustainability efforts.

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