Shutterstock/ Ekaterina Kondratova
With all the hype about healthy fats, cold-water fish (especially salmon) are considered the ultimate lean protein source. While chicken and turkey are good options as well, they lack the high levels of omega-3 fatty acids that certain fish contain. Omega-3 fatty acids carry a wide variety of health benefits. They can help lower elevated triglyceride (blood fat) levels, which put you at risk for heart disease. They are also essential to visual and neurological developments in infants, and may help protect against Alzheimer’s and dementia in adults. Although the benefits are clear, many people are hesitant to increase their fish intake due to the high mercury levels found in some varieties.
In response to this dilemma, as well as the American taste for red meat, food companies are teaming up with scientists to produce beef enriched with omega-3s. By feeding cattle flaxseed or marine algae, researchers at Kansas State University have found they can raise the omega-3 fatty acid levels in ground beef, which traditionally contains just 30 milligrams. Nutritionists and dieticians are skeptical that higher levels of omega-3s actually make red meat healthier. Kim Larson, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics, told the Huffington Post it is nothing more than a marketing ploy.
According to Larson, not all omega-3s are created equal. Two types, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA), are found in fish and other marine animals. The other kind, alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), is found in flaxseed, chia, and hemp. Most health benefits are linked to the animal-based EPA and DHA, not the plant-based ALA. Essentially, this means that even if you consume large amounts of ALA, your body can only convert small amounts of EPA and DHA.
For this reason, Larson cautions anyone against depending on flaxseed-fortified beef to get their DHA instead of eating fish. Not only does the beef only contain the less beneficial ALA fatty acid, but it also only contains just 200 milligrams per serving, compared to the 2,000 milligrams found in one serving of salmon. Additionally, red meat contains saturated fat and high intake of the animal protein is associated with cancer, cardiovascular disease, and overall mortality, according to a 2012 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. If you are concerned about your omega-3 intake, it’s best to stick with natural sources such as salmon and green leafy vegetables. Only eat red meat occasionally, and make sure to choose a lean cut whenever you do.