UF Beef Researcher Tries to Find Healthier Cattle

By : Brad Buck

 

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — 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.

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 healthier beef, said Raluca Mateescu, an associate professor of animal sciences at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. 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 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 fat — 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 latest research findings to the Florida Cattlemen’s Association last week, 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 healthier.

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. UF/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.

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

Mateescu’s team is also trying to meet the demands of beef consumers, who are increasingly health conscious.

Some consumers say they want healthier 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 healthier fat in their beef.

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

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