Not once in all the furore over the proposed mega dairy in Lincolnshire do I recall any debate about the health implications for us consumers. Though nutritionists donâ€™t know it, the nutrients in milk are partly determined by what the cowâ€™s fed on. Thatâ€™s why if good health is high on your familyâ€™s agenda, youâ€™ll want to make sure the milk, butter and cheese they eat comes from cows grazing fresh green pasture. Not from cows fed on grain in sheds.
If youâ€™re a regular eater of dairy foods the chances are youâ€™re being cheated out of key nutrients that could be protecting you from disease. Foods like butter, milk and cream traditionally came from animals grazing pastures, usually pastures containing clovers and other herbs. Today many dairy farmers reckon they can make more money by shutting their animals in sheds and feeding them large quantities of cereal grains, maize starch and soya. These are not natural rations for grazing animals. And the foods they produce from them are not healthy for humans.
Dairy cows grazing fresh grass produce milk with less saturated fat and higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids than cows on a grain-based diet. The differences are equally clear for a substance called CLA, which protects against many cancers as well as heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Itâ€™s present in large amounts in the meat and milk of grazing animals but falls dramatically when the animals are fed on grain.
Recent research at Newcastle University shows that organic milk contains more of the healthy fats than the standard supermarket milk. The reason is that under organic rules cows have to get at least two-thirds of their dietary energy from grass and forages. Itâ€™s not the â€śorganicâ€ť label that matters. Itâ€™s the fact that they spend a good part of their lives on grass.
The health message is clear. If you eat beef or dairy foods you need to make sure theyâ€™ve been produced from animals on their natural diet â€“ fresh pasture. Milk can be a great and healthy food. But only if itâ€™s free-range.