Where’s the (omega- 3) beef?
To help stave off heart disease and reap other health benefits, the American Heart Association
recommends consuming two servings of fish per week. Oily fish such as salmon, tuna, and
mackerel are rich in omega- 3 fatty acids, which have been shown in some studies to reduce the
risk of cardiovascular disease, ease depression, and promote the neurological development of
infants. Yet many people do not like the taste of fish, and scientists are concerned about the long-term sustainability of increased fish consumption. Therefore, researchers are exploring techniques
to incorporate omega- 3 fatty acids into beef, a more popular and abundant protein source than
fish in the United States and some other countries.
Olio is an Inform column that highlights research, issues, trends, and
technologies of interest to the oils and fats community.
“As a society, Americans’ consumption of fish, especially fish that contributes to these omega- 3 fats, is quite low
compared to other proteins,” said Jim Drouillard, professor
of animal sciences and industry at Kansas State University, in
Manhattan, Kansas, USA, in a news release dated February 4,
2013 ( http://tinyurl.com/greatobeef). “Reasons for this include
cost, access to fish, and personal preference. Americans do,
however, like hamburgers. So if we can give people a hamburger that is rich in omega-3s, it’s an alternative form of a
product that they already eat and does not require a lifestyle
change, which is difficult to make.”
Drouillard and his colleagues found that feeding cattle
flaxseed, which is rich in omega- 3 fatty acids, produced ome-
ga-3-enriched beef. To maximize the transfer of omega-3s
from flaxseed to beef, the researchers encapsulated the flaxseed in a dolomitic lime matrix (Alvarado-Gilis, C. A., et al.,
http://dx.doi.org/10.2527/jas.2015-9171, 2015). This encapsulation protected omega-3s in the flaxseed from conversion to
saturated fats by microorganisms in the cow’s rumen.
A quarter-pound hamburger made with the enriched
ground beef provides about 200 mg of omega- 3 fatty acids,
mainly in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). For comparison, a 4-ounce serving of salmon contains about 1,600 mg of
omega-3s. A similar serving of grass-fed beef contains about
20–30 mg of omega-3s. According to Drouillard, sensory panel
tests have not detected any significant differences in the flavor
profiles of omega- 3 beef and conventional beef.
Omega-3-rich ground beef produced by Drouillard’s
approach has been sold on a test basis in supermarket chains
in Texas and the northeastern United States under the name
GreatO Premium Ground Beef ( http://greatofoods.com).
“Currently, GreatO beef is not being sold anywhere,” says Todd
Hansen, chief executive officer of NBO3 Technologies (www.
nbo3.com), the company that markets GreatO. “We did some
consumer research, and we’re repositioning it for a relaunch
later in 2017. There’s certainly a consumer desire for it. We just
have to figure out the best way to communicate to the con-
sumer through our packaging.”
Although ALA is an essential fatty acid found in seeds,
nuts, and soybeans, it may not be the best choice for
omega- 3 fortification of beef. Most of the cardiovascular
and other health benefits of omega- 3 fatty acids have been
attributed to docosohexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentae-
noic acid (EPA), the omega- 3 fatty acids abundant in oily fish.
In the human body, ingested ALA can be converted to EPA
and DHA, but the efficiency is very low, on the order of a few
percent for EPA and even less for DHA. However, Drouillard
notes that flaxseed contains anti-inflammatory and other
beneficial compounds, in addition to ALA, that are likely also
transferred to beef.
To enrich beef with the same omega-3s found in oily
fish, researchers led by Shawn Archibeque, associate professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University, in Fort
Collins, USA, and Clint Krehbiel, professor of animal science at
Oklahoma State University, in Stillwater, USA, fed cattle algae
that produce DHA and EPA. Microalgae are the source of DHA
and EPA in fish, as the omega-3s accumulate in the marine
food chain. The challenge was finding the right amount of