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Reference - Fatty acids

Fats are triglycerides made up of combinations of fatty acids. The composition of fatty acids in beef is influenced by nutrition and the heritability estimates for major fatty acids is high so that more desirable lipids can be selected for. Wagyu have an inherent ability to deposit high levels of oleic acid. Determining the composition of the intramuscular lipids can be valuable when the desired marbling grade has been attained.

Fatty acids determine if beef has a favourable flavour. Individual preferences vary but MUFA oleic acid (18:1 ω9) and MUFA palmitoleic acid (16:1 ω9) are primarily associated with favourable flavour by the Western palate. PUFA linoleic acid (18:2), SFA stearic acid (18:0) and PUFA linolenic acid (18:3) are associated with unfavourable flavour.

Fatty acids have different characteristics for health. There are effects on blood cholesterol levels as some saturated fatty acids decrease LDL diameter while monounsaturated fatty acids increase HDL levels. The atherogenic index gives an indication of the expected effects on cholesterol levels and a lower index is associated with lower cholesterol risk.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids are present in relatively lower levels in beef - when compared to oily fish - but omega-3 (n-3) fatty acids have a beneficial effect in combating disease. The n-6:n-3 ratio expresses the proportion of the more desirable omega fatty acids in food. A ratio of 4:1 or lower is desirable. As omega fatty acids have to be consumed in the diet (as they cannot be metabolized by animals – including cattle), nutrition has a strong influence on this ratio. Fresh forages have high omega-3 content.

Research with Wagyu cattle historically reported the most common fatty acids. It was perceived in Chart of fatty acid profile from IMF from Wagyu grass- and grain-fedJapan that flavour in Wagyu is fundamentally determined by oleic acid which is present in abundance so profiles of the less common lipids were not documented in the early research. The polyunsaturated and saturated fatty acid content increase with fresh-forage feeding so these fatty acids have increased in the profile more recently and the omega-6:omega-3 ratios have not been documented. Consumers are becoming more aware of health implications and demanding more information about the composition of food.

Unpublished Australian data from a grain-fed and grass-fed animal which were both finished to 380 kilogram carcass weight has been analysed. A favourable health profile was obtained for both animals from this provisional analysis from a commercial laboratory.

Several years ago Wagyu International advocated on this page that lipid profiles should be carried out on commercial Wagyu beef so that the relative benefits from both grass-fed and grain-finished 100% Wagyu can be established and promoted.

It is overdue that the Wagyu industry demonstrates scientifically that their beef not only has a very high monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA) content - with beneficial outcomes for human health - but also that the ratio of n-6:n-3 is within recommendations. Research being undertaken in USA should address this and those bodies that have invested in and are contributing to this work are applauded.


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