A new study from the Harvard School for Public Health adds to the growing body of evidence about the health benefits of conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, an unsaturated fat found most often in cow’s milk, and to a lesser extent in grass-fed beef. Although human research has been inconsistent, several animal studies have indicated that CLA may improve cardiovascular health, and help with weight loss by reducing body fat and increasing muscle mass.
Harvard researchers found than of 4,000 study participants, those who had the highest levels of CLA had a 36 percent lower risk of heart attack compared to those with the lowest concentrations.
The Harvard researchers had to go to Costa Rica to research the topic, because dairy cows are still commonly graze pasture there, in contrast to the United States, where the vast majority of dairy cows are raised in feedlots. Cows fed fresh grass produce milk with 500 percent more CLA than do grain-fed cows.
However, thanks to new regulations that take effect this month, all organic milk must come from cows that graze pasture for at least four months of the year, and get at least 30 percent of their food from pasture during grazing season. It follows, then, that U.S. organic milk contains more CLA than conventional milk.
It’s important to note that CLA is much more abundant in whole-fat milk and dairy products than in low- and nonfat versions of these foods. The next time you are choosing milk or dairy products for your family, consider choosing organic—and even throw caution to the wind and indulge in moderate amounts of full-fat milk, yogurt, or cheese. Your palate—and your heart—may thank you!