Evaluating Cattle for More Healthful Beef

While beef already provides many nutrients, a University of Florida scientist and her colleagues are starting to find that some beef cattle breeds may contain more than others.

Beef is an excellent source of vitamin B12 and a good source of protein, niacin, vitamin B6, iron, zinc, and other nutrients, according to the USDA. That's one reason many consumers want more—and more healthful—beef, says Raluca Mateescu, PhD, an associate professor of animal sciences at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). They might even pay up to $1.50 more per pound for it, according to Mateescu's research.

"Research in the last decade shows the amount of fat in the diet isn't really linked with diseases," Mateescu says. "What is becoming clearer is that bad fats, meaning trans- and short-length saturated fats, increase the risk of coronary heart disease and other diseases, while good fats, meaning mono- and polyunsaturated and longer-length saturated fats, lower this risk. The key to a healthful diet is not to reduce total fat intake but to substitute bad fats for good fats."

Mateescu, who recently presented her latest research findings to the Florida Cattlemen's Association, is studying how to change the fatty acid content in cows.

Fat in beef varies in content and composition, and Mateescu and her colleagues recently found that steaks from Brahman cattle have more polyunsaturated and less saturated fat than Angus and are therefore more healthful.

She and her research colleagues want to develop genetic tools so beef producers can identify superior cattle and use this information to select, manage, and market their livestock, Mateescu says.

A more healthful steak will have less saturated and more unsaturated fatty acids, among other criteria, Mateescu says. UF/IFAS researchers first tried to determine the fatty acid composition of different cattle breeds, Mateescu says. They used chemical analyses of steak samples from many animals of different breeds and then compared those analyses for variation across breeds.

UF/IFAS researchers found saturated fats declined from 51.3% to 47.5%, and polyunsaturated fats increased from 4.3% to 6.9% in Brahman compared with Angus cattle. So, they found that Brahman is a more healthful source of meat.

Some consumers say they want more healthful beef, and when UF/IFAS researchers surveyed more than 1,000 people they found consumers would be willing to pay between $1 and $1.50 more per pound for more healthful fat in their beef.

Next, researchers will look for genes responsible for these differences in fatty acid content, Mateescu says. Researchers and ranchers will use these data for cattle selection and management.

— Source: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences