How can beef be made healthier for consumption purposes? This question has been answered by Inmaculada Gómez-Bastida in her PhD thesis, read at the NUP/UPNA-University of Navarre. When ingredients rich in n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, like flax seeds, and CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) were added to the food of these animals, their fat was modified, achieving an increase in omega-3 fatty acids and CLA -regarded as being beneficial for health- and a reduction in saturated fatty acids linked to cardiovascular disease.
"Adding flax seeds and CLA to the diet of calves," explained Inmaculada Gómez, "could constitute an alternative that will improve the nutritional and organoleptic quality of beef, thus leading to healthier foods." What is more, it could help to drive forward and consolidate the meat sector by helping the beef sector compete more effectively.
The PhD thesis, "Beef enriched with n-3 and CLA and attitude of consumers towards functional foods. Technological aptitude for the production of new healthy products", received a Distinction cum laude with an International Mention. It was supervised by María José Beriain, of the Department of Natural Environment Sciences, and José Antonio Mendizabal, of the Department of Agricultural Production, of the NUP/UPNA.
To conduct the research, 48 male Holstein calves were fed using 4 enriched experimental diets (12 animals for each type). When they were slaughtered, samples were analysed and it was found that it had been possible to reduce the saturated fatty acids and increase omega-3 acids and CLA, thus improving the nutritional quality of the meat.
Later on, meat-based products (of the hamburger type) were produced. "These new products consisting of meat enriched with omega-3 and CLA displayed the same technological suitability as traditional meat. We carried out a study with consumers in three cities and the enriched meat was preferred to the traditional meat," explained Inmaculada Gómez.
"As the conclusions to the thesis point out, enriching the diets with 10% flax seed and 2% of CLA did not affect either the production parameters or the metabolism of the adipose tissue and improved the fatty acid profile of the meat, thus bringing it more into line with the nutritional requirements of consumers." At the same time, "the organoleptic quality" of the enriched meat "had improved in terms of consumer preferences and displayed good technological suitability".
Finally, making these modifications to the diet of the calves, which were the object of the study, "can improve the nutritional and sensory quality of the meat without negatively affecting the animal's metabolism or the technological suitability of the meat obtained".
Inmaculada Gómez-Bastida graduated in agricultural engineering at the NUP/UPNA-Public University of Navarre, where she did a Master's in Technology and Quality in the Agri-foodstuff Industries, and later her PhD, during which she went on a research internship at the Teagasc Food Research Centre in Ashtown (Dublin, Ireland). She currently works as a Project Assistant in the Department for Natural Environment Sciences of the NUP/UPNA. She has participated in more than ten national and international conferences and is the co-author of various papers published in scientific journals.