Dear Dr. Roach: Free-range cattle is not the best source of omega-3 fatty acids | health


DR. KEITH ROACH For the Herald & Review

DEAR DOCTOR. ROACH: I have a question about omega-3 fatty acid intake, either from eating fish or from supplements like fish oil. Apparently, many American diets are omega-3 fatty acid 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.

A: 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, while the data remains mixed, most studies show that switching a diet from red meat to plant-based and fish-based diets results in a lower risk of heart disease and stroke.

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Population studies have shown that high dietary omega-3 fatty acids are associated with a reduced risk of developing dementia, as well as lowering 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.


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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?

A: A score of 135/70 in a healthy person with no other risk factors is usually not an indication for drug treatment. However, being 92 years of age is at risk for heart disease, and it is a good idea to reduce the 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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