Featured in Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, the study looked at the influence of dietary lipids from red meat on human health, and the potential to enhance the lipid composition through pasture feeding.
Cardiovascular disease is the primary cause of early mortality in the Western world. Health-conscious consumers who are following dietary recommendations require meat that is low in saturated fat, but preferably with high levels of long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids, according to the report.
The research found that pasture-fed lamb meat was high in polyunsaturated fat – which counters some of the impact of saturated fats – due to the specific plant species consumed.
The paper - Opportunities and Implications of Pasture-Based Lamb Fattening to Enhance the Long-Chain Fatty Acid Composition in Meat - stated: "Generally, ruminants that consume pasture diets have been shown to produce a more desirable fatty acid composition than those fed grain and offer the potential to be further enhanced by using specific plant species."
However, it added that while this provides benefits to the end-consumer, elevated polyunsaturated fat content in meat tends to increase its susceptibility to oxidation, influencing other characteristics such as colour and shelf-life.
"The use of specific plant species may mitigate these negative effects due to vitamin E or other antioxidants in these plants, which protect polyunsaturated fats from oxidation," suggested the researchers.
The researchers concluded that pasture naturally enhanced the proportion of long-chain fatty acids in meat, and often enriched it with antioxidants, "which is especially important for meat quality characteristics when there are high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids".
"Red clover has been identified as a promising dietary source to elevate long-chain fatty acids in meat, as it does not undergo significant biohydrogenation in the rumen," according to the research.
"However, studies on plants have demonstrated that fatty acid composition is largely determined by species, cultivar, climate and management, which may or may not confound the effects seen in grazing animals. Therefore, it would be beneficial to assess whether there are other plant species that have the potential to favourably alter the fatty acid composition of meat, and to determine whether the effects of environment and seasonality on plant fatty acid contents are replicated in meat," concluded the researchers.
The study added that while health professionals recommended moderate red meat consumption – due to its highly saturated fatty acid content – this has had a negative impact on the red meat sector, despite the known nutritional benefits of meat, "as it provides high-quality protein and important minerals including iron and zinc".