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Is Beef a Functional Food?

Is Beef a Functional Food?

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Ireland) Competition by Joanna Bell. Originally submitted for Food Quality, Safety and Nutrition at Queen University Belfast, with lecturer Dr Geraldine Cuskelly in the category of Medical Sciences
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Ireland) Competition by Joanna Bell. Originally submitted for Food Quality, Safety and Nutrition at Queen University Belfast, with lecturer Dr Geraldine Cuskelly in the category of Medical Sciences

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Key words:
Beef, Functional, CLA, Nutraceuticals, Omega 3.
This essay covers the issue on whether or not beef is a functional food and several definitionsof a functional food are provided. A debate-like structure is utilised with varying arguments asto whether beef is a functional food. The use of Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) in beef isdiscussed in depth as commonly for many it makes beef “functional”. The author concludedthat further scientific research and regulated definitions need to be provided before beef canbe classified as a functional food and with this there is potential.
Is beef a functional food?
The primary role of the diet is to meet nutritional needs of an individual to maintain optimalhealth. There is now scientific evidence that some food exceed their expectation just toprovide the basic nutrients to survive: these foods are called functional foods. Functionalfoods are defined as foods that provide disease preventing properties and/or healthpromoting benefits over and above their nutritional value [1]. In addition to this it is thoughtthat functional foods contain a health promoting ingredient not normally present in that typeof food in a significant amount [6]. Foods such Probiotic and Prebiotic yoghurts arefunctional foods as Probiotics improve the balance of bacteria in the gut preventing diseaseand Prebiotics stimulate the growth of ‘good’ bacteria to improve health [1]. Beef is acommonly eaten food in the UK culture and is known to have many health benefits. It is anexcellent source of protein, iron, zinc and vitamins B12 and B6. It is also known to provideother nutrients or added substances that could possibly be beneficial to health but can beef really be considered a functional food?Beef naturally contains the polyunsaturated fatty acid Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). CLA isproduced in the rumens of ruminant animals like cows as there is an anaerobic bacteriumcalled Butyrivibrio fibrisolvens that lives in the cow’s rumen and it biohydrogenates linoleicand linoleic acid into what is referred to as Conjugated linoleic acid [4]. “Grass contains highamounts of linoleic and linoleic acid for the cow’s rumen to convert to CLA. This means that acow eating green grass will have more CLA present than a cow fed in confinement, in fact 2-3times more [4]”. A human would need to consume about 5 grams of CLA daily to achieve a
positive health effect [4]. A 3.5 oz (medium) serving of grass-fed beef provides 25% of thedaily CLA requirement for a positive health effect. The same size serving of conventional beef provides just 9.6% of the daily CLA requirement [4].It is thought that the human consumption of CLA can benefit health by providing anti-cancerproperties, prevent heart disease and lower the risk of developing diabetes [2]. In addition tothis CLA is thought to be a powerful antioxidant [2]. There are many different types/isomersof CLA which explains the wide range of benefits it is thought to have [3].If considering the definition that states functional foods contain an ingredient not normallypresent in that type of food in significant amounts then beef containing CLA can not be calleda functional food. It can be argued from the research stated above that beef is not afunctional food as a 3.5oz serving of grass-fed cow’s meat only provides 25% towardsachieving positive benefits. An individual must be able to get another 75% elsewhere in theirdiet. This shows that there is not a significant amount that could be of benefit. It may also beargued that only grass fed cows’ beef is a functional food as it is more likely to achieve thebenefits. Furthermore it is common practice in the UK due to our climate for cows to be keptinside during the winter months where they do not have access to fresh grass. Another study carried out suggests that the addition of sunflower seeds to the cow’s dietincreases conjugated linoleic acid concentration in the meat products further increasing itschance to be considered functional [9]. Sunflower seeds are rich in linoleic acid which can beconverted to CLA in the cow’s rumen [9]. The study included feeding 3 groups of cows ondifferent diets. One group were fed on a grass diet, another grains with no sunflower seedsadded and finally one group were fed on grain with a 14% sunflower seed addition. Theresults showed that the cows fed on the grain with no sunflower seeds had very low CLAlevels in their meat whereas this increased by 50% when fed on grass. CLA levels increasedby a further 50% when cows were fed the sunflower seed grains. It appears that CLA levelsappear in more significant amounts when cows are fed this high sunflower seed diet whichadds weight to claims that that enhanced CLA beef should be considered a functional food. As the studies to show potential benefits have been carried out on mice, is it right to say thatthey definitely offer these benefits to humans and therefore can be classified as a functionalfood? Human research was undertaken for the benefits of other functional foods such asProbiotic and Prebiotic yoghurts which have shown positive effects on human health andtherefore deserve to be called functional foods. Beefs benefits would also need to be provenin humans in order it to be classified as a functional food.
Research is ongoing to the use of nutraceuticals in meats and meat products. Nutraceuticalscan be defined as a “food that provides medical or health benefits, including the preventionand/or treatment of a disease [7]”. Although this research is limited it has been observed thatthe addition of nutraceuticals/plant extracts to meat and meat products possesses antioxidantproperties [8].When research was undertaken by ‘Relay’ it was shown that sage was found to exhibit thehighest levels of bioactivity and protected against the effects of oxidation [8]. In the humanbody oxidation results in the production of free radicals that can damage cells and have beenlinked to diseases such as heart disease and certain cancers. Lutein and sesamol were alsofound to have antioxidant properties when added to beef. It was indicated that they couldwithstand processing temperatures and were able to reduce lipid oxidation to enhanceantioxidant properties [8].It is thought the use of nutraceuticals in meat to increase health promoting and diseasepreventing properties could potentially lead the product to be classified as a functional food.If nutraceuticals were utilised as an extra ingredient in beef to improve health promoting anddisease preventing properties the beef would be considered a functional food. However thereis still limited information and scientific evidence to prove its beneficial effect on the humanbody. Therefore it is too early to make any bold claims.Research has proven that cows on a high grass diet provide meat with a high omega 3 value[4]. They have 60% more omega 3 than if they were fed on another diet which mainlyconsists of grains [4]. The human body cannot produce omega 3 independently so it isessential we gain it from our diet. “People who have ample amounts of omega-3s in their dietare less likely to have high blood pressure or an irregular heartbeat. Remarkably, they are 50percent less likely to suffer a heart attack. Omega-3s are essential for your brain as well.People with a diet rich in omega-3s are less likely to suffer from depression, schizophrenia,attention deficit disorder (hyperactivity), or Alzheimer's disease”[5]. Again can beef be calleda functional food because of this increase due to grass feeding? In this case beef offers adisease fighting extra however there is no added ingredient to the actual meat and thereforeby our definition, cannot be considered functional.It is thought that beef may become more functional with modification, for example throughprocessing. The danger here is that processed foods are not considered to be “health foods” and so they may not be accepted as functional to consumers. However if this was to be thecase it has been noted that Probiotics can be added to fermented meat products such as beef sausages [11]. Probiotics which are added to yoghurts and classified as functional foods

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