Q: Is grass-fed beef a good source of omega-3 fats? How does it compare to salmon?
A: There’s no real comparison. Grass-fed beef has more of these heart-healthy fats than conventional beef, but the amount is still minimal compared to salmon or other fatty fish.
Grass-fed cattle are raised exclusively on grass or hay after weaning and not grain-finished in a feedlot, as are most cattle in the U.S. The beef produced is leaner than conventional beef, yet its fat tends to have a higher proportion of omega-3 fatty acids. In contrast, when cattle are fed grains at the end of their lives, their omega-3 stores rapidly decline.
The amount of omega-3s in beef depends on the animal’s diet and breed. A 3.5-ounce serving of grass-fed meat averages about 80 milligrams of omega-3s—twice as much as regular beef. The same size serving of salmon has 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams of omega-3s.
Moreover, the omega-3s in grass-fed beef are predominantly alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), not the types found in fish (EPA and DHA). ALA may have some health benefits of its own, and our bodies convert small amounts of it into EPA and DHA—but it can’t replace the omega-3s from fish. In any case, other foods, such as flaxseeds, walnuts, and canola oil, contain much more ALA than grass-fed beef.
Better reasons to eat grass-fed beef than for its omega-3s: Grass-fed cattle are usually raised without antibiotics. And when pastures are well managed, beef production is less energy-intensive, less polluting, and more humane than feedlot operations.