Natural beef fat shows promise for a range of human health benefits.
New knowledge of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) is at the heart of growing evidence that beef may be one of the most promising health foods of the future.
- Lisa Mina,
National Nutrition Manager,
Beef Information Centre
Now a unique network of experts is in place to help turn that promise into reality, delivering major benefits to the cattle industry and beef consumers.
The CLA Network was founded in Alberta and includes representatives from many areas of expertise such as research, food industry, health and communications.
All are focused on harvesting the remarkable potential of CLA, a type of healthy fat found naturally in beef products. While CLA research is in the early stages, pioneering studies based largely on animal models have shown considerable CLA promise for human health benefits related to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, bone density and obesity.
"CLA progress opens the door to new ways to promote beef as part of a healthy diet," says Lisa Mina, National Nutrition Manager for the Beef Information Centre, a core partner in the CLA Network. "It also creates opportunities to develop new beef products that capitalize on CLA health benefits. Both opportunities represent great news for the cattle industry and for consumers concerned about healthy food choices."
Within the research literature there is a growing volume of information that praises the benefits of CLA in promoting human health, says Dr. John Basarab a Senior Beef Research Scientist with Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (AAFRD). Basarab is a member of the Western Forage / Beef Group, which in partnership with the CLA Network, Alberta Beef Producers, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and AAFRD is investigating the ability of various diets to increase the concentration of CLA in beef.
"Imagine a possible new niche beef product: grass-finished CLA enriched beef," says Basarab. "That's one of the possibilities. To help us get there, a major focus of our research is to develop procedures that consistently produce beef with enhanced levels of CLA. The CLA Network has an important role to play in advancing this and other key goals."
CLA is formed naturally in ruminant animals when microorganisms in the gut add hydrogen to linoleic acid, a "good fat" that is essential to human diets.
The CLA that results from this process retains the essential health-facilitating properties of linoleic acid. Plus, it features two important added benefits - the abilities to displace bad fat and to act as an anti-carcinogen.
Research shows ruminant meats and dairy products already contain natural CLA, and there is strong potential to enhance these levels through a variety of livestock production strategies, including simple livestock dietary changes.
In fact, studies have shown that natural CLA levels can be increased seven-fold in beef and 10-fold in milk with an appropriate animal feeding regime. With that kind of dramatic increase, consumers will be able to take in a substantial portion of CLA by simply substituting beef and dairy products from conventionally raised animals with products which have enhanced CLA levels.
Synthetic forms of CLA have been developed for both commercial supplements and research purposes, but many leading scientists believe the CLA found naturally in beef and dairy products may offer the best avenue for developing CLA health potential.
While the unique properties of CLA were first discovered in the late 1970s, today science has advanced and there is now a rapidly growing international base of CLA research and development.
Canadian researchers have been very active in studying the health benefits, the impact on animals and the methods of increasing CLA in both beef and dairy products. Together with their international colleagues, they are making dramatic strides toward tapping the benefits of this food component.
The CLA Network is part of Canada's effort. Founded in 2001 through a collaborative effort involving government, academia and industry, the CLA Network is made up of several modules working together toward a common goal. These modules cover the areas of beef production, dairy production, animal mechanism, human health, market research, product development and communications.
Today the CLA Network is continuing to expand, with partners from across Canada and internationally.