SCIENTISTS are discovering fat in beef is far better for us than what it is given credit for.
And beef from grassfed cattle is no healthier than that from grainfed.
It runs against what social media proclaims, not to mention celebrity chefs, which frustrates researchers such as Dr Stephen Smith, who has spent 30 years studying marbling in cattle in the US, Australia, Japan, Korea and China.
A Regents Professor of meat science in the Department of Animal Science at Texas A&M University, Dr Smith was a keynote speaker at last week’s Australian Wagyu Association conference.
While everyone knows that increasing the amount of fat in beef increases its palatability, Dr Smith’s research shows it also increases its healthiness.
At the centre of the work is a dear little monounsaturated fatty acid called oleic acid.
Abundant in olive oil, oleic acid is known to increase high-density lipoprotein, or HDL cholesterol - the good type - in humans, while decreasing the bad types of cholesterol at the same time.
The World Health Organisation recommends oleic acid should be 15 to 30 per cent of daily energy intake - for women that is 25 to 50 grams per day and for men 40 to 80 grams.
The work of Dr Smith and his colleagues indicate that as cattle fatten and put down marbling, the fat becomes healthier because there is a replacement of saturated fats with oleic acid.
In transitioning from pasture or grass feeding to feedlot feeding there is a profound increase in genes associated with fat development and making more oleic acid, Dr Smith said.
As fat increases, it is accompanied by a decrease in the proportion of saturated fatty acids and trans-fatty acids with a corresponding increase in oleic acid and other monounsaturated fatty acids.
Dr Smith’s department at Texas A&M has conducted the only studies comparing the effects of ground beef from grassfed and grainfed cattle on risk factors for cardiovascular disease and Type II diabetes in people.
Their work used a four ounce ground beef patty (quarter pounder) containing the typical 10 to 15 per cent total fat.
It found that while grassfed beef does contribute to the healthy omega-3 fatty acids, it is at levels far below recommended daily intakes.
Meanwhile,the ground beef patty from grassfed cattle contained 6.3 grams of oleic acid and from grain-fed 8.3 grams.
Also, the grassfed cattle beef had two grams more saturated fat plus more trans fat than the grainfed patty.
Put simply, increased oleic acid equals increased human health plus increased eating quality, according to Dr Smith.
“We are now defending fat in the diet and we are defending marbled beef,” he said
However, while the research results clearly point to the likes of Wagyu, Angus and Japanese Akaushi being healthier, they showed ground beef of all kinds was healthy, Dr Smith said.
All types of ground beef increased HDL in studies and previous research had shown an increase in HDL of just four milligrams per decilitre strongly decreased the risk for cardiovascular disease, Dr Smith said.
“A side effect of the research was that as fat intake increased, people consumed much less carbohydrates,” he said.
Dr Smith said it was frustrating that a lot of the conventional thinking around low fat being desirable in animal products was based on ‘what’s on the web with no evidence to back up the claims’.
AWA chief executive officer Graham Truscott said it was now up to beef industries to move this information into the market.
“Healthiness in all foods is a major focus now and none more so than at the premium pricing level.
“Customers willing and able to pay for the best expect the best, and that often equates to health benefits.”
Close to 400 delegates from throughout Australia and overseas converged on NSW’s Hunter Valley for the conference.
Delegates heard the premium market for Wagyu was expected to continue to exceed supply but producers must understand individual markets, seek new markets and ensure product quality, integrity and consistency in order to remain profitable.
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