Cow's milk, grass-fed
|Food||Percentage of DRI per 100 grams|
This chart graphically details the %DV that a serving of Cow's milk, grass-fed provides for each of the nutrients of which it is a good, very good, or excellent source according to our Food Rating System. Additional information about the amount of these nutrients provided by Cow's milk, grass-fed can be found in the Food Rating System Chart. A link that takes you to the In-Depth Nutritional Profile for Cow's milk, grass-fed , featuring information over 80 nutrients, can be found under the Food Rating System Chart.
- Health Benefits
- How to Select and Store
- How to Enjoy
- Individual Concerns
- Nutritional Profile
Broad-Based Nutrient Support
When obtained from 100% grass-fed cows, whole milk contains a surprising diversity of both conventional and phytonutrients. In the conventional category, you'll find milk to be a very good source of vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin D, and vitamin B12. It's also a very good source of the minerals iodine and phosphorus, and a good source of calcium. Our rating system also qualifies whole cow's milk as a good source of protein.
As described previously, the fat composition of 100% grass-fed whole cow's milk is not what you might think. In an 8-ounce serving, you're likely to get at least 50-65 milligrams of omega-3s (in the form of alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA) and perhaps as much as 120-150 milligrams. You're also going to get a relative low ratio of omega-6:omega-3 fat in the range of 2:1 to 3:1. That ratio is healthier than the 8:1 (or higher) ratio you're likely to get from conventionally fed cows, and it's also much healthier than the ratio currently consumed by the average U.S. adult. Included within the fat composition of 100% grass-fed whole milk is CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), a type of fat associated with immune, cardiovascular and other benefits.
In terms of phytonutrients, you're likely to get 16-40 micrograms of beta-carotene in 8 ounces of 100% grass-fed whole cow's milk, along with isoflavones like formononetin, biochanin A, and prunetin depending on the type of fresh pasture and silage consumed by the cows. You're also like to get lignans like secoisolariciresinol and matairesinol, once again, depending on the cows' diet. The chart below gives some simple examples of the relationship between a cow's diet and phytonutrients in milk.
|Type of Silage||Phytonutrients Found to Increase in the Cow's Milk|
|red clover||formononetin (isoflavone)|
|alfalfa||biochanin A (isoflavone) and prunetin (isoflavone)|
|birdsfoot trefoil||secoisolariciresinol (lignan) and matairesinol (lignan)|
Grass silage has also been shown to increase the beta-carotene content in grass-fed cow's milk to levels of approximately 40 micrograms in 8 ounces. These levels are about 4 times higher than the amount of beta-carotene found in conventional cow's milk.
Antioxidants found in 100% grass-fed whole milk can include the isoflavones formononetin, biochanin A, and prunetin. Antioxidant lignans can include secoisolariciresinol and matairesinol. Vitamin antioxidants include vitamin E (which is increased by about 50% in milk from 100% grass-fed cows versus conventionally fed cows) and mineral antioxidants include selenium and zinc. Grass feeding also increases the amount of another key antioxidant—beta-carotene—in cow's milk. At approximately 40 micrograms per 8 ounces, this level is about 4 times higher than the level in milk from conventionally fed cows.
Other Health Benefits
There are preliminary studies on the health benefits of cow's milk in a variety of areas. However, we're not aware of any large-scale studies done exclusively on 100% grass-fed whole milk. Most of the studies have been conducted using milk from conventionally fed cows on relatively small groups of participants. Within this context, there is some evidence of improved weight loss and improved fat loss when cow's milk is incorporated into a closely monitored low-calorie diet.
There is also evidence of decreased risk of gout in both men and women when milk is consumed in relatively high amounts (averaging at least one cup per day, and often 2-4 cups). Researchers are not clear about the mechanism of action here, but continue to look at relationships between increased intake of cow's milk and decreased levels of uric acid in the blood. (High levels of uric acid usually precede the occurrence of gout.)
While cow's milk has been widely promoted as a source of calcium and good bone health, we have not seen large-scale studies showing significantly improved bone health in adults who regularly consume cow's milk. We have seen several studies involving decreased risk of bone fracture in children and teens who regularly consume milk, and we've also seen animal studies showing reduced risk of osteoporosis following regular milk consumption. Some of the research on bone health and the natural nutrient composition of cow's milk is complicated by widespread fortification of cow's milk with vitamin D. (Vitamin D plays an important role in bone health, and the addition of vitamin D to cow's milk during processing might account for improved bone health.)
Studies on the relationship between cow's milk intake and cancer risk are confusing, and to a certain extent, contradictory. Some studies have shown mild decreases in cancer risk (for example, breast cancer in one group of French women), while other studies have shown mild increases in risk (for example breast cancer in one group of Japanese women). Other studies have shown no connection between cow's milk intake and cancer risk. We have yet to see any large-scale studies that examined the relationship between milk from 100% grass-fed cows and cancer of any type.
Some of this confusion might be related to the widespread presence of hormonal residues in cow's milk from conventionally fed cows, which may have increased cancer risk. These hormonal residues can have two sources. First, hormones may have been injected into the cows or added to their feed in order to increase rate of growth or milk yield. But equally important may be higher levels of hormones produced by the cows themselves. Unlike milking practices adopted by ancient nomadic cultures that restricted milking to the early months of pregnancy (when hormonal levels in the pregnant cows were relatively low), modern dairy farms maintain pregnancy in dairy cows about 80% of the year and milk throughout pregnancy, even during months when hormonal levels are relatively high.
Like their fellow mammals, female cows can produce milk through the process called lactation. (In fact, the very word "mammal" refers to this milk-producing process, since milk is produced by the mammary glands in female animals and mamma in Latin means "breast.") While this distinction holds true for all female cows, not all female cows are considered dairy cows. In the commercial milk industry, dairy cows consist of very specialized breeds that can produce very large amounts of milk. Over 90% of dairy cows in the U.S. are black and white Holsteins. After Holsteins, the most common U.S. dairy cows are Jerseys. Other dairy breeds include Ayrshires, Brown Swiss, and Guernseys.
Around two years of age, female dairy cows typically have their first calf, and along with calving, they begin to produce milk (lactation). Through a combination of steps (usually including artificial insemination to re-initiate pregnancy following the end of the first lactation cycle), dairy cows can be managed in such a way as to produce milk about 80% of the year for a period of 6-10 years. Specialized milking breeds like the ones described above average about 20,000 pounds of milk per year in the U.S., with some cows producing up to 37,500 pounds.
All cows belong to the Bovidae family of cloven-hooved, ruminant animals that includes bison, buffalo, sheep, goats, antelopes, gazelles, and muskoxen. Most also belong to the Bos Taurus genus and species in this animal family.
Many animals—including cows—have been milked for the purpose of providing humans with food for thousands of years. However, cows were not native to North America and did not arrive in what is now the United States until the 15th century AD when the Spanish brought them on ships from Europe. Over the next three and one-half centuries, most of the cows present in the U.S. belonged to families on family farms. It was not until the 1900's that the dairy industry as we know it today began to develop, following invention of the pasteurization process and other events (such as the capacity to test dairy herds for the infectious disease tuberculosis).
Today there are approximately nine million dairy cows in the U.S., with five states (California, Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania, and Idaho) accounting for most of U.S. dairy production. This total number of dairy cows is about 25% lower than the number of dairy cows in the 1970's. However, even though the total number of dairy cows has decreased, the total volume of milk from these cows has nearly doubled to an average level of about 20,000 pounds per year. In the U.S. the average dairy herd size is approximately 100 cows—translating into about 90,000 dairy farms in all U.S. states combined.
How to Select and Store
When purchasing milk, always use the "sell-by" date as a guide to the shelf life of the milk. Smell the top of the container to make sure that the milk doesn't smell of spoilage that could have been caused by being stored for a period of time outside of the refrigerator. Select milk from the coldest part of the refrigerator case, which are usually the lower sections.
Milk should always be refrigerated since higher temperatures can cause it to turn sour rather quickly. Always seal or close the milk container when storing it to prevent the milk from absorbing the aromas of other foods in the refrigerator. Avoid storing milk on the refrigerator door since this exposes it to too much heat each time the refrigerator is opened and closed.
How to Enjoy
A Few Quick Serving Ideas:
- Blend together milk, a banana and your other favorite fruits for a delicious shake.
- Add milk, raisins, cinnamon and nutmeg to a pot of cooked brown rice to make rice pudding.
- Make hot chocolate by combining milk, unsweetened dark chocolate and honey in a saucepan over low heat. Stir frequently.
- Splash some milk over your morning bowl of hot cereal.
For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.
Adverse Reactions to Cow's Milk
Although allergic reactions can occur to virtually any food, research studies on food allergy consistently report more problems with some foods than with others. Cow's milk is one of these foods. We've created a special Q & A on adverse reactions to cow's milk, including cow's milk allergy and cow's milk intolerance. To read this detailed Q & A, please click here.
Production and Processing of Cow's Milk
Both consumers and scientists have raised concerns about the production and processing of cow's milk. Three areas of special concern include pasteurization and and homogenization. We've created in-depth Q & As in each of these areas. For more detailed information, please click on either of the links below:
Some animal foods and some plants foods have been the subject of ongoing controversy that extends well beyond the scope of food, nutrient-richness, and personal health. This controversy often involves environmental issues, or issues related to the natural lifestyle of animals or to the native habitat for plants. Cow's milk has been a topic of ongoing controversy in this regard. Our Controversial Foods Q & A will provide you with more detailed information about these issues.
Depending on the composition of pasture forage, grass-fed milk can be a valuable source of phytonutrients including the isoflavones formononetin, biochanin A and prunetin as well as the lignans secoisolariciresinol and matairesinol. Grass-fed milk also provides beta-carotene and vitamin E in greater amounts than are present in milk from conventionally fed cows. Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is also provided in substantial amounts in milk from 100% grass-fed cows. Grass-fed milk is a very good source of vitamin B12, iodine, vitamin B2, vitamin D, and phosphorus as well as a good source of calcium, pantothenic acid, selenium, biotin, protein, and vitamin A.
For an in-depth nutritional profile click here: Cow's Milk.
In-Depth Nutritional ProfileIn addition to the nutrients highlighted in our ratings chart, an in-depth nutritional profile for Cow's milk, grass-fed is also available. This profile includes information on a full array of nutrients, including carbohydrates, sugar, soluble and insoluble fiber, sodium, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and more.
Introduction to Food Rating System ChartIn order to better help you identify foods that feature a high concentration of nutrients for the calories they contain, we created a Food Rating System. This system allows us to highlight the foods that are especially rich in particular nutrients. The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good, or good source (below the chart you will find a table that explains these qualifications). If a nutrient is not listed in the chart, it does not necessarily mean that the food doesn't contain it. It simply means that the nutrient is not provided in a sufficient amount or concentration to meet our rating criteria. (To view this food's in-depth nutritional profile that includes values for dozens of nutrients - not just the ones rated as excellent, very good, or good - please use the link below the chart.) To read this chart accurately, you'll need to glance up in the top left corner where you will find the name of the food and the serving size we used to calculate the food's nutrient composition. This serving size will tell you how much of the food you need to eat to obtain the amount of nutrients found in the chart. Now, returning to the chart itself, you can look next to the nutrient name in order to find the nutrient amount it offers, the percent Daily Value (DV%) that this amount represents, the nutrient density that we calculated for this food and nutrient, and the rating we established in our rating system. For most of our nutrient ratings, we adopted the government standards for food labeling that are found in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's "Reference Values for Nutrition Labeling." Read more background information and details of our rating system.
Cow's milk, grass-fed
|vitamin B12||0.55 mcg||23||5.5||very good|
|iodine||28.06 mcg||19||4.5||very good|
|vitamin B2||0.21 mg||16||3.9||very good|
|vitamin D||62.22 IU||16||3.8||very good|
|phosphorus||102.48 mg||15||3.5||very good|
|pantothenic acid||0.46 mg||9||2.2||good|
|vitamin A||56.12 mcg RAE||6||1.5||good|
Density>=7.6 AND DRI/DV>=10%
Density>=3.4 AND DRI/DV>=5%
Density>=1.5 AND DRI/DV>=2.5%
In-Depth Nutritional Profile for Cow's milk, grass-fed
- Agricultural Research Service. Putting Cows Out to Pasture: An Environmental Plus. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. Agricultural Research Magazine, May/June 2011; vol. 59(5): pages 18-19.
- Benbrook CM, Butler G, Latif MA, et al. (2013). Organic Production Enhances Milk Nutritional Quality by Shifting Fatty Acid Composition: A United States—Wide, 18-Month Study. PLoS ONE 8(12): e82429.
- Choi HK, Atkinson K, Karlson EW, et al. Purine-rich foods, dairy and protein intake, and the risk of gout in men. N Engl J Med. 2004 Mar 11;350(11):1093-103. 2004.
- Claeys WL, Cardoen S, Daube G et al. Raw or heated cow milk consumption: Review of risks and benefits. Food Control, Volume 31, Issue 1, May 2013, Pages 251-262.
- Cornish J, Callon KE, Naot D et al. Lactoferrin is a potent regulator of bone cell activity and increases bone formation in vivo. Endocrinology September 1, 2004 vol. 145 no. 9 4366-4374.
- Couvreur S, Hurtaud C, Lopez C et al. The Linear Relationship Between the Proportion of Fresh Grass in the Cow Diet, Milk Fatty Acid Composition, and Butter Properties. Journal of Dairy Science, Volume 89, Issue 6, June 2006, Pages 1956-1969.
- Crittenden RG and Bennett LE. Cow's milk allergy: a complex disorder. J Am Coll Nutr December 2005 vol. 24 no. suppl 6 582S-591S.
- Dewhurst RJ, Fisher WJ, Tweed JKS et al. Comparison of Grass and Legume Silages for Milk Production. 1. Production Responses with Different Levels of Concentrate. Journal of Dairy Science, Volume 86, Issue 8, August 2003, Pages 2598-2611.
- Elgersma A, Ellen G, van der Horst H et al. Quick changes in milk fat composition from cows after transition from fresh grass to a silage diet. Animal Feed Science and Technology, Volume 117, Issues 1-2, 10 November 2004, Pages 13-27.
- Hojer A, Adler S, Martinsson K et al. Effect of legume-grass silages and α-tocopherol supplementation on fatty acid composition and α-tocopherol, β-carotene and retinol concentrations in organically produced bovine milk. Livestock Science, Volume 148, Issue 3, October 2012, Pages 268-281.
- Hojer A, Adler S, Purup S et al. Effects of feeding dairy cows different legume-grass silages on milk phytoestrogen concentration. J Dairy Sci. 2012 Aug;95(8):4526-40. doi: 10.3168/jds.2011-5226.
- Lake IR, Foxall CD, Fernandes A et al. Seasonal variations in the levels of PCDD/Fs, PCBs and PBDEs in cows-milk. Chemosphere, Volume 90, Issue 1, January 2013, Pages 72-79.
- Lerch Sm SHingfield KJ, Ferlay A et al. Rapeseed or linseed in grass-based diets: Effects on conjugated linoleic and conjugated linolenic acid isomers in milk fat from Holstein cows over 2 consecutive lactations. Journal of Dairy Science, Volume 95, Issue 12, December 2012, Pages 7269-7287.
- Lock AL an Garnsworthy PC. Seasonal variation in milk conjugated linoleic acid and delta 9-desaturase activity in dairy cows. Livestock Production Science, Volume 79, Issue 1, January 2003, Pages 47-59.
- Moorby JM, Lee MRF, Davies DR, et al. Assessment of dietary ratios of red clover and grass silages on milk production and milk quality in dairy cows. Journal of Dairy Science, Volume 92, Issue 3, March 2009, Pages 1148-1160.
- Noziere P, Grolier P, Durand D et al. Variations in Carotenoids, Fat-Soluble Micronutrients, and Color in Cows-Plasma and Milk Following Changes in Forage and Feeding Level. Journal of Dairy Science, Volume 89, Issue 7, July 2006, Pages 2634-2648.
- O'Brien D, Shalloo L, Patton J et al. A life cycle assessment of seasonal grass-based and confinement dairy farms. Agricultural Systems, Volume 107, March 2012, Pages 33-46.
- O'Driscoll K, Olmos G, Llamas Moya S et al. A reduction in milking frequency and feed allowance improves dairy cow immune status. J Dairy Sci. 2012 Mar;95(3):1177-87. doi: 10.3168/jds.2011-4408.
- Patel M, Wredle E, and Bertilsson J. Effect of dietary proportion of grass silage on milk fat with emphasis on odd- and branched-chain fatty acids in dairy cows.
- J Dairy Sci. 2012 Oct 10. doi:pii: S0022-0302(12)00754-0. 10.3168/jds.2012-5441. [Epub ahead of print].
- Rego OA, Regalo SMM, Rosa HJD et al. Effects of Grass Silage and Soybean Meal Supplementation on Milk Production and Milk Fatty Acid Profiles of Grazing Dairy Cows. Journal of Dairy Science, Volume 91, Issue 7, July 2008, Pages 2736-2743.
- Roggeman S, van den Brink N, Van Praet N et al. Metal exposure and accumulation patterns in free-range cows (Bos taurus) in a contaminated natural area: Influence of spatial and social behavior. Environmental Pollution, Volume 172, January 2013, Pages 186-199.
- Soyeurt H, Dehareng F, Mayeres P et al. Variation of Delta 9-desaturase activity in dairy cattle. J Dairy Sci. 2008 Aug;91(8):3211-24. doi: 10.3168/jds.2007-0518.
- Sterk A, Johansson BEO, Taweel HZ et al. Effects of forage type, forage to concentrate ratio, and crushed linseed supplementation on milk fatty acid profile in lactating dairy cows. Journal of Dairy Science, Volume 94, Issue 12, December 2011, Pages 6078-6091.
- Tempesta T and Vecchiato D. An analysis of the territorial factors affecting milk purchase in Italy. Food Quality and Preference, Volume 27, Issue 1, January 2013, Pages 35-43.
- Zemel MB, Richards J, Milstead A et al. Effects of calcium and dairy on body composition and weight loss in African-American adults. Obes Res. 2005 Jul;13(7):1218-25.
- Zemel MB, Thompson W, Milstead A et al. Calcium and dairy acceleration of weight and fat loss during energy restriction in obese adults. Obes Res. 2004 Apr;12(4):582-90.
- Much grattidtude to George Mateljan,and the George Mateljan Foundation for www.whfoods.com