While beef already provides plenty of nutrients, a University of Florida scientist and her colleagues are starting to find that some beef cattle breeds might be healthier than others, according to an announcement from the University of Florida.
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 U.S. Department of Agriculture.
That’s one reason many consumers want more and healthier beef, said Raluca Mateescu, an associate professor of animal sciences at the University of Florida Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences (IFAS). They might even pay up to $1.50/lb. more for it, according to Mateescu’s research.
“Research in the last decade shows the amount of fat in the diet is not really linked with diseases,” Mateescu said. “What is becoming clearer is that bad fats — meaning trans and short-length saturated fats — increase the risk for 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 healthy diet is not to reduce total fat intake but to substitute bad fats for good fats.”
Mateescu, who presented her recent research findings to the Florida Cattlemen’s Assn., 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 fat and less saturated fat than Angus cattle and are, therefore, healthier, the announcement said.
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 said.
A healthier steak will have less saturated and more unsaturated fatty acid, among other criteria, Mateescu said. IFAS researchers first tried to determine the fatty acid composition of different cattle breeds, Mateescu said. They used chemical analyses of steak samples from many animals of different breeds and then compared those analyses for variation across breeds.
The IFAS researchers found that saturated fats declined from 51.3% to 47.5% and polyunsaturated fats increased from 4.3% to 6.9% in Brahman versus Angus cattle, the university said. So, they found that Brahman is a healthier source of meat.
Mateescu’s team is also trying to meet the demands of increasingly health-conscious beef consumers.
Some consumers say they want healthier beef, and when IFAS researchers surveyed more than 1,000 people, they found that consumers would be willing to pay between $1.00 and $1.50/lb. more for healthier fat in their beef, the university said.
Next, Mateescu said the researchers will look for genes responsible for these differences in fatty acid content. Researchers and ranchers could use these data for cattle selection and management.