Grain fed beef healthier, US meat biochemist claims

Grain fed beef, especially if the genetics are Asian in origin, is healthier for you than grass fed animals, according to studies conducted by Texas A&M University in the US over the past decade.

The studies have found that corn fed beef in a feedlot produced high levels of oleic acid, a fatty acid that occurs naturally in various animal, human and vegetable fats and oils such as avocados and other common food oils.

Oleic acid is a common monounsaturated omega 9 fat associated with decreased low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and possibly increased high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which it is claimed is healthier for you due to a lowering of the risk of cardiovascular disease.

According to Texas A&M University Meat Science department biochemist Stephen Smith, studies at the university found that grass feeding strongly depressed the amount of oleic acid in beef. Grain fed beef by contrast produced twice the amount of oleic acid.

At a speech in July hosted by Marcus Oldham College’s Centre for the Study of Agribusiness in Melbourne Dr Smith said the university had also found that grass feeding increased saturated and trans fatty acid levels, the latter which are considered bad for you.

As well, he said, oleic acid levels were found to be highest in highly marbled Japanese bred Wagyu cattle. Angus and other British breeds however were found to have higher growth rates and feed efficiency in a feedlot.

Dr Smith said he suffered from high cholesterol levels and when he consumed beef high in oleic acid it lowered them.

Beef with high levels of oleic acid tended to be more highly marbled, palatable and juicer. Among the cuts of beef, the brisket, was found to have the highest levels of oleic acid.

At Texas A&M University four separate studies with ground beef high in oleic acid have been conducted with human subjects.

The conclusion was that increasing fat in the diet and decreasing carbohydrates, improved the risk factors for cardiovascular disease. And increasing oleic acid in beef provided greater health benefits than just increasing total fat.

Dr Smith said in the US, steers were generally backgrounded on grass before going into a feedlot from about 12 months of age for 100-150 days and up to 210 days to achieve a weight of up to 500kg before being slaughtered.

He conceded that the US had a competitive advantage over Australia having a climate more conducive to producing a large corn crop, which allowed for more beef cattle to be lot-fed rather than solely grass fed.


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