Why should we seek out and pay a premium price for grass fed and pasture raised dairy products? There are many good reasons:
*Grass fed dairy products cost more than generally available commercial dairy products. Committing to eating only grass fed dairy products will reduce the amount of dairy in your diet. This is good because most people probably eat more dairy than is necessary or healthy. Certainly national average dairy consumption is much higher than it was 70-80 years ago. Dairy can be part of a healthy whole food diet but variety and moderation are important.
*Grass fed and pasture raised cows are healthier than grain fed cows and the dairy produced from grass fed cows is much healthier for us than the dairy produced from grain fed cows. And the whole-fat dairy products are healthier for us than reduced-fat products because many of the vital vitamins and nutrients in any dairy product are fat soluble(not water soluble) which means they are removed along with the fat.
*Cows evolved as grazing animals. They are designed to eat grass and roam open pastures. They are not designed to eat grain, especially genetically modified grain, and be restricted to small pens.
*Raising cows on open pasture is much more environmentally sustainable and much less energy-intensive than raising cows on grain in a fixed area. Pasture raised: Grass grows in the pasture, cows eat it, manure fertilizes the pasture for future grass growth and the cows are moved to the next pasture to graze. Grain fed: Grain is grown on huge monoculture farms, mechanically harvested and shipped many miles to the cows, cow manure needs to be constantly removed from the pens and builds up to levels that pollute rivers and ground water after every hard rain. Pasture raised cows also produce much smaller amounts of greenhouse gasses than do grain fed cows.
*Grass fed dairy products taste much better than grain fed dairy products. Our bodies are surprisingly adept at choosing the foods that are best for them if we give them the chance.
*Grain changes the pH of a cow’s digestive tract and skews the balance of omega-3/omega-6 fatty acids as well as preventing formation of other health promoting nutrients.
*Grass fed cows produce dairy with a healthy omega-3/omega-6 fatty acid balance.
*Grass fed dairy has much higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid(CLA) as grain fed dairy.
*Grass fed dairy is lower in long chain saturated fats compared to grain fed dairy and is higher in the healthy medium chain and short chain saturated fats like those found in olive oil and coconut oil.
*Grass fed dairy has higher levels of vitamin E, vitamin A and vitamin D as well as beta carotene.
Why is it important to eat whole-fat grass fed dairy products?
The “whole-fat” question gets right to the heart of why a diet based on whole foods is important for health. Many of the most important vitamins and other nutrients in dairy products are found only in the fats. Many of the fats themselves of grass fed dairy are important for health.
Eating reduced- or non-fat dairy products is similar to eating eggs without the yolk: most of the nutrients and protein of an egg are in the yolk. It is like eating white flour instead of whole wheat: almost all of the nutrients have been stripped away to leave only empty calories. And I firmly believe that “fortifying” stripped foods with individual vitamins or minerals is a very poor substitute for eating the whole food because the synergistic effect of all of the micro-nutrients interacting with each other is lost.
So, do your body a big favor. Eat grass fed and pasture raised dairy products whenever possible even if it means eating less dairy than you are used to. Your body and the environment will both be happier.