Fatty acid profile of South Africans animal products

Project team: Prof Hettie Schönfeldt, Dr Nicollete Hall and Dr Beulah Pretorius

Regular consumption of red meat is often considered detrimental to human health due, among other factors, to a perceived unhealthy fatty acid profile. Essential fatty acids play a part in many metabolic processes such as growth, brain development, skin health, cholesterol, lipoprotein and glucose metabolism. Emerging evidence shows that low levels of essential fatty acids, or the wrong balance of types of fatty acids, may be a precursor for a number of illnesses such as increased blood cholesterol, heart disease and cancer. Fatty acid profile in meat obtained from ruminants are dependent on species, feeding regime, cut, fatness level of carcass and cooking conditions. Following the development of new methods for analyzing nutrient composition related to trans fatty acids, food composition reference tables used by dieticians and the food industry became outdated. This project set out to fill this knowledge gap. The team of researchers included animal scientists, human nutritionists, biochemists and dietitians from the University of Pretoria, the Agricultural Research Council and the Medical Research Council. They were supported by funding from the Red Meat Research and Development South Africa as well as the National Research Foundation.

The fatty acid profile of the different beef offerings available on the market were evaluated and the data expressed per edible portion to effectively guide future dietary recommendations. Notable differences were found in the quantity and quality of different fatty acids between the different production systems. Due to the unique classification system dictating the characteristics of fresh meat the result indicated distinctive differences between South African red meat and international produce.

There was a more favourable omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio for grass-fed cattle, compared to grain-fed cattle, irrespective of the degree of trimming. The beef from the grassfed cattle also contained a higher quantity of conjugated linoleic acid. The research outcomes have been used to update the national reference tables and have been shared with the International Meat Secretariat group for updating international data. This information has been useful to dieticians in supporting healthy eating and will also support the rolling out of labeling of fresh meat.

- Author IFNuW

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