Edmonton, Alta., March 11, 2009: Canadian scientists are leading the way to "build an even better beef burger" by taking advantage of new knowledge about CLA, Omega 3 and other healthy components found naturally in beef.
"We've learned a lot about the health benefits of fatty acids found naturally in beef," says Dr. John Basarab, a beef researcher with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. "Now it's time to turn this knowledge into product innovations for the consumer."
Beef's broad nutritional value is well established. Packed with 14 essential nutrients, lean Canadian beef is naturally nutrient rich and a nutritious choice for a healthy diet. It is an excellent source of high quality protein, one of the richest food sources of highly absorbable iron, and one of nature's best sources of zinc and vitamin B12. But until recent years, little has been understood about the unique fatty acids it contains.
Now there is growing evidence these fatty acids are in fact healthful, in some cases remarkably so. CLA, or conjugated linoleic acid, is a leading example.
"Natural CLA is one of the best good news stories to emerge for beef consumers and the beef industry in a long time," says Basarab. "It's something that has always been a part of beef, but it's only recently that we've started to uncover its broad health potential. CLA appears to be one of those rare food components that can deliver health benefits beyond nutrition."
Basarab is one of a number of scientists who have investigated the promise of natural CLA in recent years as part of the CLA Network. The CLA Network is a multi-disciplinary team representing producers and industry, government, the research and academic community and other specialized expertise, all with an interest in driving progress with natural beef and dairy CLA. The Beef Information Centre, the market development division of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, is one of the CLA Network partners.
In the case of beef production, CLA is formed naturally in beef cattle when linoleic acid from digested plant material is converted into CLA through activity by microorganisms in the rumen.
Research by the CLA Network and others has revealed that natural CLA contains antioxidant, anti-tumor and other health-boosting properties. Research to date, based largely on animal models, has shown potential benefits including helping to prevent or fight cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, kidney disease and metabolic syndrome, and to improve bone density. Human clinical trials are planned within the next several years.
Substantial health-related potential has also been shown for vaccenic acid (VA), a natural fatty acid found in beef that is a precursor to CLA – it converts into CLA once inside the human body, upon interaction with a natural human enzyme.
Studies by researchers in the CLA Network have confirmed that beef products already contain natural CLA and VA. Basarab's colleague, meat scientist Dr. Mike Dugan of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, has shown there is potential to consistently increase VA and CLA two-to-three times through natural and simple livestock dietary strategies and other production approaches.
"The progress with CLA and VA has come a long way," says Basarab, leader of the CLA Network's Beef Research Module. "As we look to incorporate what we've learned into product innovations, we want to tie our strategies together into an integrated approach that supports an optimization of all healthy beef fatty acids, including Omega 3. This integrated approach will be our focus over the next several years as we aim to work with beef producers, processors and industry toward the development of an enhanced fatty acid beef product."
Another of Basarab's colleagues, meat scientist Dr. Jennifer Aalhus with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada feels that the initial focus should be to develop enhanced ground beef. This would lead to similar potential for other enhanced beef products.
More information on CLA Network progress and opportunities with natural beef CLA is available in a feature article, "New knowledge of beef's natural health benefits," available on the CLA Network Web site, www.CLAnetwork.com. More information on enjoying Canadian beef as part of healthy living is available at www.beefinfo.org.