A steaks a steak right – does it really matter what the cow ate?
New Zealand lean beef is nutritionally rich, providing a great source of protein and essential nutrients such as iron, zinc and vitamin B12 that are all required for optimal health. Many people reduce their intake or beef because they think it is high in fat but New Zealand Beef contains less than a fifth of the total fat found in other protein foods such as cheese or nuts which makes it an essential part of any diet.
As in all foods containing fat, there is a mixture of fat types – saturated, monounsaturated & polyunsaturated. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are beneficial to the body as these fats help lower cholesterol. But not all polyunsaturated fats are the same – there are omega-3 and omega-6 fats. Just like vitamins and minerals these are essential for good health. The body can not make omega-3s and omega-6s so must get them from food.
The ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats in beef differs considerably depending on whether it was from grass-fed animals or grain-fed animals. New Zealand grass-fed beef can contain up to 5 times the levels of omega-3 fats than grain-fed animals, as grain-fed beef has a much higher levels of omega-6.
Why is this important?
Omega-3s, most commonly found in oily fish have a multitude of health benefits including reducing cholesterol and high blood pressure. They are also helpful in improving the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, eczema, asthma and even inflammatory bowel disease. There are also many benefits of omega-6s including lowering blood cholesterol; however, omega-6s are ‘competitors’ to omega-3s. While they are chemically similar, they act in very different ways and compete with each other for the same enzymes in the body.
The body requires a certain level of omega-3s and omega-6s to function effectively. The intake of one type of fat in relation to the other is known as the ‘Omega Balance’. It is argued that Western populations consume too many omega-6s and not enough omega-3s. While omega-6s are important for optimal health, researchers now believe that an over supply upsets the delicate balance of fats within our bodies and may create health problems.
New Zealand grass-fed beef may potentially make a significant contribution to the omega-3 intake of New Zealanders who eat little fish, while grain-fed beef, although still nutritionally beneficial, may upset the delicate balance of omega-3 to omega-6. So it might not make that succulent steak taste any different but it really does matter what the cow ate!
Kath Fouhy is a New Zealand Registered Dietitian. At her Wellington clinic she works with everyday New Zealanders as well as top athletes and helps them achieve healthier lifestyles and sports performance through optimal nutrition.