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Nutritional benefits of pasture-raised beef, lamb explored

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Projects will assess physical effects on the body from eating different foods for up to 10 weeks.

New Zealanders will be invited to take part in a major research program to assess the health and well-being benefits of eating pasture-raised beef and lamb versus grain-finished beef and plant-based alternatives. Approximately 100 people will be monitored in two groundbreaking clinical studies led by researchers from AgResearch, the Riddet Institute and the University of Auckland.

The projects will assess the physical effects on the body from eating the different foods for up to 10 weeks, as well as psychological elements such as satisfaction, sleep and stress levels, according to an announcement.

The research team includes meat scientists, agricultural academics, dietitians, behavioral experts and social scientists.

Sirma Karapeeva, Meat Industry Assn. chief executive, said much of the global research on the health, nutritional and environmental aspects of red meat were based on intensive grain-finished farming systems.

“However, New Zealand specializes in free-range livestock farming that is naturally pasture raised, antibiotic free and hormone free," she said. “We know there are myths and misinformation about the production and benefits of eating red meat, so we have turned to research to help bring balance to what consumers are hearing.

“Nutritionists tell us moderate amounts of red meat can be an important part of a well-balanced diet, and this research aims to build on the substantial credible evidence that underpins this advice," Karapeeva said.

“Research shows there is untapped global demand for natural beef and lamb raised on grass pastures and consumers are prepared to pay a premium for it," she added.

The initial stages of the program are led by AgResearch and the Riddet Institute. AgResearch will develop nutritional profiles, and the Riddet Institute will undertake lab-based (or in vitro) digestive analysis of the products.

Results from these two studies will provide baseline data about pasture-raised beef and lamb and its consumption in comparison to other foods.

University of Auckland researchers will then oversee the final two stages, investigating both the short-term and long-term well-being and health benefits of red meat consumption.

The highlight of the program -- a sustained clinical study -- will entail members of 40 households on a managed flexitarian dietary regime over 10 weeks, the announcement said. The participants will be monitored over the course of the study and changes in health status, behaviors and attitudes and perceptual well-being recorded.

AgResearch senior scientist Dr. Emma Bermingham said, “We will carry out an advanced analysis of red meat, looking at its unique components, such as bioactive lipids and minerals, that make red meat such a nutritious form of protein when included as part of a balanced healthy diet.”

Drs. Mike Boland and Lovedeep Kaur, both senior scientists at the Riddet Institute, will demonstrate how the human digestive system responds to the differing food compositions to release the nutritious proteins and lipids for the body to use.

“We will examine how well these three contrasting foods are digested, using gastric simulation techniques,” Boland said.

University of Auckland academic director and research dietitian Dr. Andrea Braakhuis and her team will examine how the beneficial lipids and nutrients from a single meal are absorbed and utilized by the body before moving to the longer 10-week study, where health and well-being benefits of red meat as a part of a balanced diet will be the focus for the researchers.

The research is supported by Meat Industry Association Innovation Ltd. and jointly funded with Beef + Lamb New Zealand Ltd., the High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge and New Zealand's Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment.

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