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Healthier meat from pasture-fed animals

New research has shown that pasture-fed animals may produce meat with enhanced health benefits.

The study - that was published in Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety - examines the influence of dietary lipids from red meat on human health and investigates the potential of enhancing fat composition through pasture-feeding.

It has been well established that the high incidence of cardiovascular diseases in the Western world is closely linked to the intake of saturated fatty acids. Further studies have also correlated meat consumption with higher incidences of colorectal cancer. 

Health-conscious consumers have since demanded meat that is low in saturated fat but preferably high in polyunsaturated fat i.e. long-chain omega-3 fatty acids.

The research found that ruminants that consume pasture diets generally produce a more desirable fatty acid composition than those fed grain.

Pasture naturally enhances the proportion of long-chain fatty acids in meat and often enriches the meat with antioxidants, which is especially important for meat quality characteristics when there are high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids. High polyunsaturated fat content in meat tends to increase its susceptibility to oxidation, affecting product shelf-life and sensory characteristics such as colour and texture.

Complex metabolic processes in the rumen are shown to constrain the ability to improve fatty acid composition in meat products to meet recommendations for daily fat intake. 

Red clover was found to be a promising dietary source to elevate long-chain fatty acid content in meat, as it does not undergo significant biohydrogenation in the rumen.

According to the review, studies on plants have demonstrated that fatty acid composition is largely determined by species, cultivar, climate, and management, which may or may not have confounded the effects seen in grazing animals.

Therefore, it would be beneficial to assess whether there are other plant species that have the potential to alter the fatty acid composition of meat favourably, and determine if the effects of environment and seasonality on plant fatty acid content are replicated in meat.

Natalie Howes and Anna Campbell from AbacusBio were co-authors of the research paper.

View the full research article

People involved: Natalie Howes, Anna Campbell, Grace Johnstone, Peter Fennessy