Nutritionists have always recommended choosing fish over beef because of its heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. But researchers and cattle ranchers in Kansas are looking to change that up.
Now, a new trend is afoot to make cows more like fish.
James Drouillard, faculty coordinator for the Beef Cattle Research Center at Kansas State University, began to wonder whether cows that had algae and flaxseed mixed in with their usual feed would produce beef that was higher in “good fats.”
Turns out he was right. Grass-fed beef, from cows raised traditionally on a pasture, contains about five times as much omega-3 fatty acids as feedlot beef, or cows fed mostly corn grain. But if the feedlot ranchers mix algae and flaxseed into the grain, the tables turn.
Omega 3-enhanced beef is even more costly than the organic, grass-fed steak.
Grass-fed beef contains about 30 mg of omega-3s per serving. Omega-3 enhanced feedlot beef contains about 200 mg per serving. Of course, even the enhanced beef isn’t in the same ballpark as fish. Salmon still packs a whopping 1,100 mg of omega-3s per serving.
The omega-3 enhanced beef is even more costly than the organic, grass-fed steak. Shipping algae for your cows when you live in Kansas, Oklahoma, or Idaho is no small feat.
“It’s always a challenge when feeding cattle to get supplements to the feedlot,” Gant Mourer, a professor of animal sciences at Oklahoma State University, told LifeZette. “You either have to take the supplements to the cattle or the cattle to the supplements.”
He said you would also need a pretty big pond to grow the algae yourself — and Kansas has been in drought.
Random price checks show grass-fed sirloin selling for about $9.99 a pound and feedlot beef for $7.99 a pound. But researchers say that omega 3-enhanced beef would need to sell for about $1.85 more per pound to turn a profit. So cows that eat algae will sell for significantly more than the cows that eat grass.
Niki Baker, a young mom and pharmacist in Boston, Massachusetts, said she wouldn’t buy the enhanced beef.
“Meat is already so expensive,” she said.
Other consumers echo that sentiment. Carolynn Jones, a 40-year-old business professional in Southern California, said, “Price is always going to be a factor.”
Jones has been trying recently to find healthier options for protein, but she said she would probably still stick with the grass-fed beef rather than buy the omega 3-enhanced beef.
Stick with grass-fed beef if you’re just looking for a healthier cut of cow.
Adding algae to the feedlot grain doesn’t seem like a reasonable solution to Jones, and she would be more inclined to add an omega-3 supplement to her diet than buy the enhanced beef.
Overall, you might be better sticking with grass-fed beef if you’re just looking for a healthier cut of cow. Even steaks that are enhanced with omega-3s can still be high in other unhealthy fats.
Glen Osterhout, a veteran cattle rancher in Declo, Idaho, runs a herd of hearty grass-fed animals.
He said feedlot ranchers don’t have the time to let their cows graze in pasture because they usually have to “turn their cattle” — or get them ready for slaughter — in 90 days.
“They give them growth hormones and swamp them in real rich feed. They grow quick that way,” he told LifeZette.
“When you buy beef from a supermarket, the ranchers feed them just about anything to fatten them up,” he said.
In Idaho, that means anything from potato waste to the leftovers from grain distilling. “They really get a cocktail ration,” Osterhout said.
So if you’re looking for overall healthier beef, give grass-fed meat a try. If you’re looking for omega-3s, stick with the fish.