Omega-3 fatty acids are all the rage these days when it comes to reducing painful inflammation post dump day. We’ve looked to wild caught Alaskan salmon as the best food source, but hallelujah, ya’ll—new research indicates that ripping into a grass-fed burger may be just the ticket for those achy knees. So, just like neon, beef is back.
Researchers at California State University, Chico, recently reported in the Nutrition Journal that when comparing grass-fed to grain-fed beef, the meat from the grass-fed variety was far superior. Cynthia A. Daley, PhD, and her colleagues analyzed several studies that proved grass-fed beef had consistently higher levels of two key omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Meanwhile, the meat from grain-fed beef contained little to none of these beneficial fats.
Ounce for ounce, grass-fed (or free-range) and grain-fed (commercially raised) beef contain approximately the same amount of saturated fat. Yet the grass-fed variety has a greater amount of stearic acid, which does not affect cholesterol levels, while conventional beef is higher in myristic acids that can raise those levels. Not to mention the fat in the grass-fed variety contains more nutrients than the commercial meat. Specifically, grass-fed beef is higher in vitamin E, which supports healthy skin (windburn), beta-carotene which supports antioxidant and immune enhancing activity, and glutathione, a critical part of human detoxification systems (too many parking lot beers).
Before the 1950s, when large burger chains began to super-size us, nearly all beef came from grass-fed animals. Grass itself is high in alpha-linolenic acid which easily converts in a cow’s body to EPA and DHA. Though since cattle have increasingly been fed grains like corn and soy to promote faster weight gain, the amount of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fat content has increased. The typical American diet now provides a much higher ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats, and this shift is strongly correlated to the increased prevalence of inflammatory diseases.
A few ski-town restaurants have begun to catch on to not only the nutritional benefits of grass-fed beef, but also to the superior flavor and sustainable economic benefit. The Cottonwood Restaurant and Bar in Truckee serves a grass-fed “Meyer Ranch” cheeseburger with waffle fries for $11.95. The Mangy Moose at the base of Jackson Hole offers a ½ pound Mead Ranch Burger with sharp cheddar, lettuce, tomatoes, onion, and dill pickle with hand-cut French fries for $12. At the Ajax Tavern in the Little Nell in Aspen you can really up your omega-3s with an Ajax Double Cheeseburger made with Milagro Ranch grass-fed beef, American cheese, onion aioli, and frites for $17.
Then there is always the make-your own version…
Grass-Fed, Green Chile Pepper Jack Burger
2 pounds local, grass-fed beef
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 thin slices pepper jack cheese
4 great-quality hamburger buns, toasted
½ cup diced green chilies
Garden lettuce leaves
4 thick slices organic beefsteak tomatoes
Pickled jalapenos (optional)
Heat grill to high. Mix green chilies into meat and form into 4 (8-ounce) burgers and season each burger on both sides with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and a 1/4-teaspoon of pepper. Grill until charred on both sides and cooked to desired doneness.
Place 2 slices of the cheese on each burger, close the lid, and cook until the cheese has just melted, about 1 minute. Place burgers on buns and top with lettuce, tomatoes and jalapenos.