Grass-fed beef is not the best source of omega-3 fatty acids

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DEAR DOCTOR. ROACH: I have a question about the intake of omega-3 fatty acids, either from eating fish or from supplements like fish oil. It appears that many American diets are omega-3 deficient. One possible reason is that most American cattle are fed mostly corn rather than grass, resulting in low-omega-3 meat. Most of the arguments in favor of increased omega-3 intake seem to be related to heart health. But omega-3 fatty acids are also important for brain health. Specifically, I wonder if there could be a link between these nutritionally low omega-3 levels and our dementia and Alzheimer’s epidemic. – AJS

ANSWER: Grass-fed beef contains more omega-3 oils than grain-fed beef. However, even with grass-fed beef, the amount is still relatively small compared to other sources. A standard serving of grass-fed beef fillet contains about 65 mg of omega-3 fats, about 50% more than grain-fed ones. There is no “official” recommended intake for omega-3 fatty acids, but the Institute of Medicine found that healthy adults eat 1,100 (women) and 1,600 (men) per day.

Grass-fed beef isn’t really a good source to get there. It would take 4.5 pounds of grass-fed beef daily to reach the men’s goal – not a healthy choice. A single serving of salmon is more than 1,800 mg. More importantly, although the data remains mixed, most studies show that switching from red meat to plant-based and fish-based diets results in a lower risk of heart disease and stroke.
Population studies have shown that a high dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids is linked to a reduced risk of dementia, as well as a reduction in high blood pressure and heart disease. However, clinical studies with omega-3 dietary supplements for the treatment or prevention of dementia such as Alzheimer’s have shown little or no benefit.

Dr. Keith Roach

In my opinion, like many Mediterranean-style diets, a diet high in fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, and oily fish has many health benefits, including lower risk of dementia and vascular disease. If you enjoy eating beef, I recommend that you only do it occasionally. Until there are clear benefits showing that grass-fed beef has health benefits compared to grain-fed beef, I think eating beef sparingly is far more important than being grass-fed.

DEAR DOCTOR. ROACH: I am a healthy 92 year old woman. I eat a lot of vegetables, fruits, and seafood. My doctor said a 20 year old would be jealous of my blood counts. I work out four days a week with slow jogging, stretching, and weight lifting.

My problem is that my blood pressure is usually 135/70, sometimes a little higher or lower. I’m afraid it’s too high, but my doctor is happy with that number. What is your opinion? – RY

ANSWER: A result of 135/70 in a healthy person without any other risk factors is usually not an indication for drug treatment. However, age 92 is at risk for heart disease, and it is a good idea to reduce your risk wherever you can. You seem to be getting on remarkably well with your diet and exercise, and that is likely helping your blood pressure as well.

I agree with your doctor that your blood pressure doesn’t need treatment beyond your healthy lifestyle, but your desires are important. If you really wanted to treat it I would consider an extremely low dose of one of the safest blood pressure medications out there. The benefits of medication would be small.

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Dr. Roach regrets not being able to answer individual letters, but will include them in the column if possible. Readers can email questions at [email protected] or email 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803.

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