Beef fortified with DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids is getting closer to market, thanks to a company called Omega3Beef. According to the firm’s website, the company has so far crowd-funded 60% of what it needs to pursue the next steps in its business plan: a larger study and gaining approval for commercial sale from FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine.
Omega3Beef says it has nearly completed the research and development phase of achieving high DHA and EPA omega-3 levels in beef by feeding cattle omega-3 rich algae. In collaboration with Oklahoma State University, the company has performed two studies so far confirming that one serving of the company’s omega-3 steak contains as much as 140 mg of DHA and EPA combined—similar to the levels found in fish species like mahi mahi. The company says its Omega3Beef HeartBurger contains even higher omega-3 levels—as much as 280 mg of DHA and EPA per serving—thanks to hamburger’s higher fat content.
Nutritional Outlook spoke to Omega3Beef founder Don Smith, who says that Omega3Beef is not only an omega-3 food alternative to fish, likewise passing on the health benefits of omega-3 DHA and EPA to the consumer; it is also a healthier beef option, period.
“The problem with beef is saturated fat,” says Smith. “What we’ve done is added omega-3s, which in high amounts counteract the negative aspects of saturated fat and, to a degree, our omega-3 fat substitutes for saturated fat so there is slightly less saturated fat in the meat.”
Omega3Beef isn’t the first to dabble in omega-3-fed cattle, but it is the first to specifically aim for DHA and EPA fortified beef. Researchers at Kansas State University developed an ALA omega-3-fortified beef by feeding cows flaxseed. The beef is now sold as GreatO Premium Ground Beef by a company called NBO3 Technologies. (Smith points out that studies show a lower conversion rate of ALA to DHA and EPA in the human body, however.)
Smith says Omega3Beef is the first to successfully feed its cattle DHA and EPA algae. The notion of feeding cattle algae is more complicated than it sounds. For one thing, Smith explains, the cow’s rumin will destroy omega-3s during digestion—essentially turning polyunsaturated fats like omega-3s into saturated fats, hydrogenating them—if the omega-3s are unprotected.
To solve this problem, the company uses microencapsulated algae from DSM Nutritional Products (Parsippany, NJ). The microencapsulated particles are sturdy enough to withstand the digestion in the rumin and prevent hydrogenation, eventually enabling the omega-3s’ release in the small intestine.
Another challenge is that a cow will naturally limit its fat intake. “Cows don’t normally eat fat; they normally eat grass. So their metabolism isn’t designed to take in a lot of fat. And if you feed them too much fat, they stop eating. And if you feed them too little, they don’t get enough omega-3,” he says. “You’ve got a small window in terms of the amount of omega-3s that you can feed them, and just the perfect amount works.” Also, he says, one must consider the high amount of fat already present in a cow’s feed if the feed contains corn.
Each Omega3Beef feed yard cow is fed approximately 1 lb of algae per day. (A cow normally eats about 25 pounds of feed per day.) The algae is mixed in with the cow’s feed, which can be a mixture of corn, top hay, and dried distiller’s grain. “It took us a long time to get the right amount of algae, and the right kind, mixed with typical feed-lot ingredients, and it worked,” Smith says.
Timing is also crucial, he says, in terms of when you start feeding the cow algae and when you slaughter the cow, in order to ensure target EPA and DHA levels. Smith says it takes about three months of consuming algae for a cow to build up its EPA and DHA stores. Thus, the cows are usually fed algae from three months prior to slaughter.
Smith has a number of suggestions for who might be an Omega3Beef customer. “I’d originally thought that this would take off in the whole foods market, in the natural beef market, because those consumers already pay a higher margin for beef,” he says. “But I’ve found some hamburger chains that are very, very interested.” Also, he says, “white tablecloth” steakhouses might be interested in this healthier alternative to round out their menus.
Lean steak or hamburger can still have a lot of DHA and EPA in them because, as Smith explains, omega-3s will first deposit in the cow’s muscle fiber. “This is a great result because it means you can have lean steak or ultralean hamburger and still have a lot of omega-3s,” he says. “It doesn’t have to have a lot of fat to have omega-3s in it.”
The omega-3s deposit in the marbling “so that when you have a juicy steak and you cut away all of the fat on the outside and only eat the lean muscle, the muscle has flecks of fat in it—and the marbling has high omega-3 content,” he says.
Importantly, how much DHA and EPA do humans actually obtain after eating DHA/EPA-fortified beef? Smith says Omega3Beef is working with a couple of universities to test this. “So we’ll be able to show how much of the healthy blood chemicals are in a human by eating omega-3 beef compared to eating other beef and fish,” he says.
Does the beef have a fishy aftertaste? “The answer is no—but it could,” Smith says. “The omega-3s are what make fish smell fishy, so in high quantities, it could smell fishy, but it doesn’t in the quantities we use.”