5

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n-3/n-6 ratios: tell me how this is wrong

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created April 06, 2011 at 3:01 AM

It looks like:

  • Grain-fed beef has more n-6 PUFAs, and less CLA, than grass-fed beef.
  • Grass-fed beef has more n-3 PUFAs, but is expensive and not easily found in all locales.
  • n-6 PUFAs, if eaten in moderation, are primarily relevant for their ratio to n-3 PUFAs.
  • Fish oil, n-3 gram for n-3 gram, is cheap.

So, then:

  • Eating grain-fed beef is a viable solution for budget-conscious paleo folks when consciously supplemented with n-3s in the form of fish oil.

If that hypothesis sounds good to you, then I ask you:

  • Why the fixation on grass-fed/finished?

Keep in mind that I'm not looking for any one answer. Perhaps there are other health benefits to grass-fed beef that I'm overlooking. And I certainly appreciate a desire to support local farmers who treat their beef humanely.

It's pretty easy to come to terms with spending more on higher quality food. But I'm curious to hear your responses all the same.

D143c5e6da70b2cab829396e76f7151b

(46)

on July 15, 2011
at 04:58 AM

REALLY well articulated! Great post!

64433a05384cd9717c1aa6bf7e98b661

(15236)

on April 10, 2011
at 06:05 AM

Fair enough, but what about the fact that all polyunsaturated fat (6 or 3), is susceptible to oxidative damage. Increasing n-3 intake while making no reduction in n-6 intake raises the total amount of polyunsaturated fat in the diet, increasing the risk of oxidative damage.

64433a05384cd9717c1aa6bf7e98b661

(15236)

on April 10, 2011
at 06:04 AM

Fair enough, but what about the fact that all polyunsaturated fat (6 or 3), is susceptible to oxidative damage. Increasing n-3 intake while making no reduction in n-6 intake raises the total amount of polyunsaturated fat in the diet, thus increasing the risk of oxidative damage.

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on April 06, 2011
at 03:25 PM

i agree that taste is a part, for those of us that can afford the choice. i eat both. however, now when i eat cheaper CAFO meat it definitely has a blandish greasy flavor that i notice. It doesn't ruin the meal but its there.

Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117

(25482)

on April 06, 2011
at 01:51 PM

Disagree totally....we have human studies showing epigenetic effects of fish oil on telomeres. N6 data on telomeres has shown nada yet. That being said I do believe n 6 are bad but the data does not yet support your beliefs or paleo 2.0

4b97e3bb2ee4a9588783f5d56d687da1

(22913)

on April 06, 2011
at 12:36 PM

Don't forget the Grainfed cows are almost always fed significant amounts of GMO feed, and therefore potentially contaminated and potentially contaminating you: http://www.seedsofdeception.com/Public/GeneticRoulette/HealthRisksofGMFoodsSummaryDebate/index.cfm

66e6b190e62fb3bcf42d4c60801c7bf6

(12407)

on April 06, 2011
at 12:18 PM

But if the pufa's in beef aren't that much anyway, wouldn't fish oil supplementation be minimal anyways?

101b3a5c96d313d22262f65bdff20acf

(539)

on April 06, 2011
at 12:17 PM

+1 for an excellent point on the paleo collective psyche and cognitive dissonance.

C2ad96801ec1e22d2bf62475b6e52751

(1416)

on April 06, 2011
at 11:48 AM

Thanks for your answer. Have any studies been done on ratio vs. absolute quantities, to your knowledge?

E35e3d76547b18096a59c90029e7e107

(15613)

on April 06, 2011
at 11:24 AM

Well the stats were for a tablespoon (14g) of butter versus 100g of grassfed meat, just to show that benefits from grassfed vs conventional would be dwarfed by eating more butter. I wanted to compare grassfed vs conventional (+ as much butter as you wish with either), not tallow vs butter. On *that* question though this http://www.adsa.org/jointabs/iaafs108.pdf says milkfat:beef fat is 4:3.5, so grassfed tallow versus butter (leaving choice of meat aside) would be roughly equal.

Cab7e4ef73c5d7d7a77e1c3d7f5773a1

(7304)

on April 06, 2011
at 10:49 AM

When you say grassfed beef has less cla, are you talking about 100g of beef or 100g of tallow? If you're including the meat part too, then it makes sense it would have less cla. Butter is straight fat, so it would be better to compare it to tallow.

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9 Answers

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8
E35e3d76547b18096a59c90029e7e107

(15613)

on April 06, 2011
at 09:32 AM

I think this conclusion is right, but with certain qualifications to your suggested reasons.

If you're eating mostly beef, then conventional or not, you'll be getting relatively low amounts of o6. Just over 2g a day for 0.5kg of fatty ground beef. My butter contains substantially more n6- 2.7g per 100g. Combining them both, I'm only getting around 5-7g per day anyway.

The possible reduction in o6 from going grassfed is therefore very slight indeed. The absolute increase in o3 is also pretty slight. This article linked to at MDA suggests between 60mg and 100mg per 100g of beef. (Even omega 3 eggs are 14% o6- which I figure to be approximately 5g for 6 eggs- and a ration of 0.44:1 o3:o6, which dwarfs any o3 you'd get from meat. Similarly, 200g of canned salmon contains about 5000mg of o3, which again dwarfs the amounts from grassfed- a week of which would give you 3500mg by those figures).

It's true that grassfed does contain more CLA. Again from the MDA paper, grassfed contained between 15 and 64mg per 100g, compared to 18-63mg for concentrate fed. Even if we think that it's a lot preferable to conventional beef though, the absolute levels are pretty low. A tablespoon of pastured butter is 250mg, for example. Given that I eat about 100g of butter per day, I'm not particularly worried. Indeed, how much butter you eat would seem to be substantially more of a factor than whether you eat grassfed. Even 67% pastured butter (which I hope British butter meets) contains 150mg CLA per tablespoon, so I'd hope that I'm fine (that's more than twice the CLA per 100g for grassfed beef).

Therefore eating conventional beef and eating oily fish seems to me to be at least as good (plausibly better in some cases) than eating grassfed alone.

-

The couple of qualifications I had were these.

Firstly, fish oil is plausibly quite a bit worse than omega 3 from fresh fish. Studies quoted here suggest that fish produced a 129% rise in EPA and 45% rise in DHA versus 106% and 25% for CLO despite the CLO containing 3g versus only 1.2g in the cooked salmon. Adding this to questions about the degredation of the PUFA in fish oil, the absence of natural micronutrients/antioxidants in fish oil and the importance of the triglyceride form, there are various reasons to think that fish oil might be suboptimal. Fwiw, I still take fish oil and eat canned salmon a couple of times a week, depending on how much I can stomach.

Also it's worth bearing in mind that there might be other thus far undiscovered wonder-chemicals to be discovered that grassfed meat has more of than conventional. Presumably it's a bit higher in micronutrients, but I've never seen anything to suggest that this is biologically significant. We only discovered CLA in 1987, for example. I've got to say that I'm sceptical this will be the case, however.

One of my suspicions is that the preponderance of being pro-grassfed in the paleo community is explained partly by its usefulness in reducing cognitive dissonance and making our diet more socially acceptable. Lots of people report that they still intuitively feel that red meat must be unhealthy for you, so it's no doubt a great boon to be able to quiet our own thoughts and the challenges of others by replying "Ah yes, but this is an all-natural, grassfed cow, not one of your grain-fattened, chemical pumped death cows." It's probably also a factor that the paleo movement is based predominantly in America, where the alternative (feed-lotting) is so much worse, compared to, for example, the UK where pasturing animals a lot of the time is pretty common.

Our reasoning above might also be challenged by insisting that the basic paleo heuristic trumps the specific statistics in this case. Namely, it might be challenged that your average Grok, would have predominantly been eating only grassfed meat and therefore whatever grassfed meat contains must be optimal. Certainly we should be sceptical prima facie about pursuing numbers that would be seemingly impossible to obtain in a paleo context. However, there are reasons to be sceptical in this case. For one thing, it is eminently plausible that we spent a significant amount of evolutionary time eating omega-3 additional to that consumed from grassfed meat. Various people think that we spent quite a lot of time near shorelines or otherwise eating significant quantities of seafood. Similarly, hunter-gatherer populations that do eat larger quantities of omega-3 do seem to gain some benefits- like the inuit. Furthermore, we might also imagine that what produced optimal evolutionary benefits in a paleo context might not produce optimal health in a modern context. It is plausible, for example, that there were benefits to being in a somewhat more inflammatory state in a paleo context than is optimal for long-lived health now. Having a strong inflammatory response (producing a few false positives) when faced with injury or infection might well be a net good in a paleo context, whereas having reduced inflammation, triglycerides, blood clotting etc might well be a boon for optimal health now, where we're more inclined to face chronic inflammation than die from acute infection. In any case, I think that there are good reasons to prefer the scientific, nutritionistic arguments offered to mere paleo reasoning (especially when paleo thinking doesn't return a clear result, as in this case).

And a final addendum is that even if I thought grassfed meat were significantly healthier, I'd still eat conventional beef for the ethical benefits, naming reducing my unnecessary expenditure and increasing the amount I can give to foreign development charities.

E35e3d76547b18096a59c90029e7e107

(15613)

on April 06, 2011
at 11:24 AM

Well the stats were for a tablespoon (14g) of butter versus 100g of grassfed meat, just to show that benefits from grassfed vs conventional would be dwarfed by eating more butter. I wanted to compare grassfed vs conventional (+ as much butter as you wish with either), not tallow vs butter. On *that* question though this http://www.adsa.org/jointabs/iaafs108.pdf says milkfat:beef fat is 4:3.5, so grassfed tallow versus butter (leaving choice of meat aside) would be roughly equal.

Cab7e4ef73c5d7d7a77e1c3d7f5773a1

(7304)

on April 06, 2011
at 10:49 AM

When you say grassfed beef has less cla, are you talking about 100g of beef or 100g of tallow? If you're including the meat part too, then it makes sense it would have less cla. Butter is straight fat, so it would be better to compare it to tallow.

101b3a5c96d313d22262f65bdff20acf

(539)

on April 06, 2011
at 12:17 PM

+1 for an excellent point on the paleo collective psyche and cognitive dissonance.

D143c5e6da70b2cab829396e76f7151b

(46)

on July 15, 2011
at 04:58 AM

REALLY well articulated! Great post!

8
9aa2a816c61170cc0183a68be0386ba5

on April 06, 2011
at 03:11 AM

I believe the fixation is not only on the o6/o3 ratio but on the fact that most grass-fed cows are treated more humanely and are more sustainable - plus they're normally fronted by an actual farmer instead of a picture on the package.

And, its just damn tasty.

3
425aa4bfb79556ed50ea693c3edd7e13

(609)

on April 06, 2011
at 04:01 AM

The basic flaw in this reasoning is that there's no evidence that adding n-3 to get to a good ratio is actually addressing the problem, which is n-6 related inflammation caused by too much n-6.

Another possible flaw: cheap fish oil supplementation is of dubious merit

And another: n-3 is more easily oxidized and mass quantities of it may not be a good idea in and of itself.

66e6b190e62fb3bcf42d4c60801c7bf6

(12407)

on April 06, 2011
at 12:18 PM

But if the pufa's in beef aren't that much anyway, wouldn't fish oil supplementation be minimal anyways?

C2ad96801ec1e22d2bf62475b6e52751

(1416)

on April 06, 2011
at 11:48 AM

Thanks for your answer. Have any studies been done on ratio vs. absolute quantities, to your knowledge?

3
5740abb0fa033403978dd988b0609dfd

on April 06, 2011
at 03:33 AM

Eating grain-fed beef is a viable solution for budget-conscious paleo folks when consciously supplemented with n-3s in the form of fish oil.

Yes, particularly if budget is one's primary or sole concern. And if not fish oil, simply fish.

Why the fixation on grass-fed/finished?

There's a few of reasons: better tasting product more sustainable husbandry practices support family farmers instead of ag-business

And not every one is fixated. Almost by definition it's only the ones that are fixated that are going to talk about it -- those unfixated are thinking and thus talking about other things.

2
535ced7ff5ffbb44c471ce3751d058cb

(64)

on April 06, 2011
at 03:07 PM

hmm i think people put way too much thought into this. I'm really sure paleo man really cared about 6/3 ratios and PUFAS if your freakin hungry eat if not don't and eat as clean as possible.

2
89e6ee4796cc4b4fba5dc573618aa6f5

on April 06, 2011
at 07:13 AM

I agree with XYZ there are no studies I have seen to confirm the theory of toping up a high N6 diet with fish oil to redress the balance. I feel better when I take good quality fish oil, so I do.

One on my main reasons for supporting Grass fed Organic is the overall health of the animal I am eating. A high % of a heard of grain fed animals are sick all the time, constantly requiring antibiotics to fight infection. How much of these drugs are left in the fat/meat? Hormones are added to their diet, how much of this makes it onto our plates? I'd rather not find out so its grass fed for me as often as possible :]

2
64433a05384cd9717c1aa6bf7e98b661

(15236)

on April 06, 2011
at 04:08 AM

yes, reducing n-6 should be the first priority, with n-3 supplementation as a secondary helper.

Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117

(25482)

on April 06, 2011
at 01:51 PM

Disagree totally....we have human studies showing epigenetic effects of fish oil on telomeres. N6 data on telomeres has shown nada yet. That being said I do believe n 6 are bad but the data does not yet support your beliefs or paleo 2.0

64433a05384cd9717c1aa6bf7e98b661

(15236)

on April 10, 2011
at 06:05 AM

Fair enough, but what about the fact that all polyunsaturated fat (6 or 3), is susceptible to oxidative damage. Increasing n-3 intake while making no reduction in n-6 intake raises the total amount of polyunsaturated fat in the diet, increasing the risk of oxidative damage.

64433a05384cd9717c1aa6bf7e98b661

(15236)

on April 10, 2011
at 06:04 AM

Fair enough, but what about the fact that all polyunsaturated fat (6 or 3), is susceptible to oxidative damage. Increasing n-3 intake while making no reduction in n-6 intake raises the total amount of polyunsaturated fat in the diet, thus increasing the risk of oxidative damage.

1
66e6b190e62fb3bcf42d4c60801c7bf6

on April 06, 2011
at 12:19 PM

I'd throw in that if u top that grain fed beef with some pastured butter, you'd get your cla.

1
Ef9f83cb4e1826261a44c173f733789e

on April 06, 2011
at 11:13 AM

Why the fixation on grass-fed/finished?

It tastes better. I think conventional beef tastes bland in comparison. I need a conventional steak charred or with sauce for it to taste decent. I've met my grass-fed farmer and his family. I visited the farm where his wife gave me a 30-minute talk about how they do things. I also met the processor (another small family business) who helps me understand as much as I want about butchery and the different cuts.

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on April 06, 2011
at 03:25 PM

i agree that taste is a part, for those of us that can afford the choice. i eat both. however, now when i eat cheaper CAFO meat it definitely has a blandish greasy flavor that i notice. It doesn't ruin the meal but its there.

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