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Health Benefits: Balanced Omega 3's & 6's

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Purchasing Considerations when buying grass-fed beef

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Meat from grass-fed animals has two to four times more omega-3 fatty acids than meat from grain- fed animals. Omega-3s are called "good fats" because they play a vital role in every cell and system in your body. For example, of all the fats, they are the most heart-friendly. People who have ample amounts of omega-3s in their diet are less likely to have high blood pressure or an irregular heartbeat. Remarkably, they are 50 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack. (1) Omega-3s are essential for your brain as well. People with a diet rich in omega-3s are less likely to suffer from depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit disorder (hyperactivity), or Alzheimer's disease. (2)

Another benefit of omega-3s is that they may reduce your risk of cancer. In animal studies, these essential fats have slowed the growth of a wide array of cancers and also kept them from spreading.(3) Although the human research is in its infancy, researchers have shown that omega-3s can slow or even reverse the extreme weight loss that accompanies advanced cancer and also hasten recovery from surgery.(4) (5)

There are two types of Omega-3. Long chain Omega-3, the most healthful kind, comes from the meat and milk of animals that eat the leaves of green plants or, in the case of ocean fish, green plankton.(6)  Short chain Omega-3 is found in certain nuts and seeds such as flaxseeds and walnuts.  Omega-3s are formed in the chloroplasts of green leaves and algae. Sixty percent of the fatty acids in grass are omega-3s. When cattle are taken off omega-3 rich grass and shipped to a feedlot to be fattened on omega-3 poor grain, they begin losing their store of this beneficial fat. Each day that an animal spends in the feedlot, its supply of omega-3s is diminished.(7) The graph below illustrates this steady decline.

Data from: J Animal Sci (1993) 71(8):2079-88.

When chickens are housed indoors and deprived of greens, their meat and eggs also become artificially low in omega-3s. Eggs from pastured hens can contain as much as 10 times more omega-3s than eggs from factory hens.(8)

It has been estimated that only 40 percent of Americans consume an adequate supply of omega-3 fatty acids. Twenty percent have blood levels so low that they cannot be detected.(9) Switching to the meat, milk, and dairy products of grass-fed animals is one way to restore this vital nutrient to your diet.

Farm-raised fish and omega 3's

Researchers from Wake Forest University have found something fishy about one of America's most popular fish foods: farm-raised tilapia. Common belief has it that fish are a good source of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, a way of restoring America's distorted omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. Investigators found, however, that tested farm-raised tilapia (and catfish) not only has low levels of omega-3, it has more omega-6s than bacon, doughnuts and 80 percent lean hamburger. Even tested farm-raised salmon has 3 grams  of omega-3 per 100 grams of fish and farm-raised trout 4 grams. Farm-raised tilapia, however, has less than a half gram per 100.

The main culprit behind the high omega-6 levels in farm-raised fish is apparently the corn-soy diet. Most wild fish eat greens (and/or other fish that eat greens), which is what produces omega-3s, as is the case with pasture-fed livestock. For those who eat fish as a way of controlling inflammatory diseases via an increase of omega-3 intake, farm-raised tilapia is not a good choice, according to the researchers.(10)

Farm raised salmon, however, do not have the same omega 3:6 profile as wild salmon.  Farm-raised fish contain considerably higher levels, up to four times those of wild salmon, of omega 6 fatty acids.

Additionally, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, over 68% of all seafood consumed in the United States is imported, and most of it is industrially produced. Many of these commodities are farm-raised and often involve little oversight regarding antibiotic drug use. While the U.S. government has standards that should ban imports with high levels of antibiotics in seafood, there is essentially no enforcement.  Farmed salmon have more antibiotics administered by weight than any other form of livestock.  Farmed salmon have significantly higher levels of PCBs, dioxin, and other cancer causing agents over wild salmon.(11)

1. Siscovick, D. S., T. E. Raghunathan, et al. (1995). "Dietary Intake and Cell Membrane Levels of Long-Chain n-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and the Risk of Primary Cardiac Arrest." JAMA 274(17): 1363-1367.
2. Simopolous, A. P. and Jo Robinson (1999). The Omega Diet. New York, HarperCollins. My previous book, a collaboration with Dr. Artemis P. Simopoulos, devotes an entire chapter to the vital role that omega-3s play in brain function.
3. Rose, D. P., J. M. Connolly, et al. (1995). "Influence of Diets Containing Eicosapentaenoic or Docasahexaenoic Acid on Growth and Metastasis of Breast Cancer Cells in Nude Mice." Journal of the National Cancer Institute 87(8): 587-92.
4. Tisdale, M. J. (1999). "Wasting in cancer." J Nutr 129(1S Suppl): 243S-246S.
5. Tashiro, T., H. Yamamori, et al. (1998). "n-3 versus n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids in critical illness." Nutrition 14(6): 551-3.
6. "Army Plans to Increase Omega-3 in Soldiers' Diets to Combat Suicides." The Stockman Grass Farmer August 2010
7. Duckett, S. K., D. G. Wagner, et al. (1993). "Effects of time on feed on beef nutrient composition."
J Anim Sci 71(8): 2079-88..
8. Lopez-Bote, C. J., R.Sanz Arias, A.I. Rey, A. Castano, B. Isabel, J. Thos (1998). "Effect of free-range feeding on omega-3 fatty acids and alpha-tocopherol content and oxidative stability of eggs." Animal Feed Science and Technology 72: 33-40.
9. Dolecek, T. A. and G. Grandits (1991). "Dietary Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Mortality in the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial (MRFIT)." World Rev Nutr Diet 66: 205-16
10. Acres USA, September 2008 "Farmed Fish & Omegas"

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Avella, Pennsylvania 15312

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Revised: January 02, 2017 has been on-line since June 27,2007