You Eat What You Feed: How Much Omega-3s Can You Possibly Pack into a Single Steak? The Impressive Effects of a "Grass(+)" Diet on Raw Meat & Meat Products

Learn more about the fatty acid and nutrient composition of grass-fed vs. regular beef this SuppVersity article is for you... and make the first step to reduce your CVD risk by 20% irrespective of whether or not you're going to eat grass-fed in the future!
I remember that I wrote a previous post about the detrimental effects of growing salmon on a high omega-6 diet. The result is a fish with an omega-3 to omega-6 ratio that is totally different from that of the wild-caught salmon everyone is raving about. Bad news, I know and to be honest, I am fed up with bad news.

Luckily you can rely on the scientists over at the Leibniz Institute for Farm Animal Biology in Germany: Dirk Dannenberger and his colleagues have just published a paper that sheds some light on the beneficial side of this ostensibly nasty link between the fatty acid make-up of the feed and the fatty acid composition of the meat of the animals we eat.

N6 in N3 out, N3 in N6 out - you see, it works both ways!

In their quest to find a way to change the fatty acid composition of beef products (German Corned beef (GCB), tea sausage spread (TSS), scalded sausage (SS)) the scientists simply replaced the regular maize silage + concentrate  and soybean meal based diet with a diet containing grass silage + concentrate with added rapeseed cake (12%) and linseed oil (3%) and *surprise* the amounts of short chain and long chain omega-3 fatty acids increases by 160%, 130% (EPA) and 70% (total long-chain PUFA = EPA, DHA, DPA).
Figure 1: Detailed comparison of the fatty acid content (mg/100  g) in Longissimus muscle of German Holstein bulls fed the regular corn + soy based (control) vs. grass + linseed based (experiment) diets  a different diet (Dannenberger. 2013)
Now that's cool, but in view of the fact that the major part of beef products is not bought as a raw steak of in form of ground beef, etc. what really counts is the net omega-3 gain in the previously mentioned beef products and that did not work as well as the enthusiastic
"n-3  PUFA  from  beef were  found  to  be  product-specifically  transferred  into  the  corresponding  beef  products"(Dannenberger. 2013)
 would suggest. After all, the increase in short chain and total long-chain omega-3s in the corned beef was only 40% and 50% and thus 75% and 29% lower than the increase in the "raw material".

So where did the good omega-3s go?

Well, I guess some of you will already have got it. German Corned Beef if freakin' lean. With only 2% fat the reason for the absence of omega-3s is thus simply that the fatty cuts don't even make it into the end product.
Figure 2: While the "grass-fed + enhanced" meat has identical amounts of iron, copper, zinc and selenium (not shown) it lacks the additional "vitamin E"-s that are in the corn-based chow; furthermore both forms are devoid of the fat burning isomer of CLA, this does yet also imply they don't entail the corresponding diabetes risk (Dannenberger. 2013)
So, despite the success of the study at hand, we would initially have to take up eating the whole animal, or rather all the cuts instead of throwing away the fatty ones just to be take the lean parts, fry them in plant oils and drown them in soy- or sunflower-oil based sauces to "water" the dry meat and spice up the blatant taste (with the decrease in total fat content in grass-fed cattle this effect will be even more pronounced, by the way).

Once we have made that important step from thinking that all animal fat must be bad, a simple change in the ingredient profile of our animals' feed could make a big difference to our health... what? No, you can already buy meat like that... you must be kiddin' me, right?  ;-)

This is not what you want: Farmed Atlantic salmon - raised with & fried in soy *yummy* (learn why)
Bottom line: I hope today's SuppVersity article did not just provide you with more information about the fatty acid profile of "grass fed, omega-3 pimped meat", but also made you smile. And if it did that I did already contribute to a 22% reduction your personal heart disease risk before you even ate one of the omega-3 steaks from the German cows.

How? Well, that's the CVD risk reducing effect of positive affect that was established in a large prospective study with 10 years of follow-up by Karina Davidson from the Department of Medicine, Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health at the Columbia University Medical Center in 2010 - I know I am so caring, but you don't have to thank me for that. I mean who would ready my stuff if it was not for you?

  • Dannenberger D, Nuernberg K, Herdmann A, Nuernberg G, Hagemann E, Kienast W. Dietary PUFA Intervention Affects Fatty Acid- and Micronutrient Profiles of Beef and Related Beef Products. Foods. 2013; 2(3):295-309.
  • Davidson KW, Mostofsky E, Whang W. Don't worry, be happy: positive affect and reduced 10-year incident coronary heart disease: the Canadian Nova Scotia Health Survey. Eur Heart J. 2010 May;31(9):1065-70.
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