Even though he was one of the last speakers of the day at the Red Meat Sector Conference, Professor David Cameron-Smith’s presentation on ‘Meating the needs of an ageing population’, had delegates’ attention when he talked about the properties of protein and fat in meat.
The Chair in nutrition for the food and health programme at the University of Auckland talked about the rapidly ageing global population. The graph he presented (see below) showed that we’re almost at the cross over point. It suggested that by 2025, around eight percent of the global population will be under five, while over 11 percent will be over 65, though this will increase further to about 16 percent by 2050.
Cameron-Smith talked about some of the new research into proteins and fats.
He described protein as “super-star macro-nutrient.” adding that there is lots “of wonderful research demonstrating the power of protein for all sorts of things: satiety, weight control, metabolic parameters, cognitive functioning and, importantly, muscular strength and recovery.”
Research shows that 95 percent of the population are easily getting their recommended daily intakes (RDI) of protein in the daily diet, but that’s not focusing on the benefits of protein in the diet.
“We are predominantly muscle and consuming muscle meat matches our body’s requirements,” he said. But that’s only part of the picture.
“We all lose muscle mass as we age,” he said, adding that at the extreme end of the scale (sarcopenia) you lose so much muscle mass to the point where you are frail. But you lose muscular strength much faster than muscular mass.
He pointed to research that shows a higher regular intake of muscle meat means that you maintain muscle mass. If you exercise and ingest protein you get an added beneficial response: after exercise you assimilate more protein, he explained, adding that research is needed to see whether red meat helps to build muscle.
The dairy industry has been extremely quick to capitalise on this research, isolating leucine – a whey protein – which is sold at $90 a kg to bodybuilders. However, consumers should be aware that they can also obtain excellent levels of leucine directly through red meat at affordable prices as well.
Contrary to popular belief, meat is relatively quickly digested too he showed, when fed to younger people as a chunk of meat that they process with knives and forks. Research has shown it may also be digested more quickly when processed, with teeth. But no research has been done on the digestion of minced meat or meat digestion in older consumers.
“You have the actual highest protein containing a super ingredient. When it comes to red meat it is not being sold on the basis of that protein delivering a benefit to the consumer, in terms of satiety. Its benefit to the consumer is its ability to deliver that amino acid to help you recover and repair.”
No comparison has been made between animal and vegetable proteins or in relation to the higher protein diets with weight loss or the role of protein in blood glucose management in diabetes. However, the latter is a very active focus of research and over the course of the next three to five years Cameron-Smith hopes that there will be a focus on the value of lean red meat in diabetic management and as part of an optimal diabetic diet.
Another suggested topic for research, said Cameron-Smith, could be into the DPA (Docosapentaenic acid), “the missing Omega-3”. This is a long chain Omega-3 fatty acid which aroused significant interest as it is predominant in ‘grass-fed’ beef and lamb, you cannot get it from fish, which is rich in the other two – EPA and DHA.
Research in Australia, a low seafood consuming country, shows that red meat contributes about 50 percent of the intake of long-chain omega 3 fatty acids. However, DPA consumed from red meat is not recognised by Food Standards Australia & NZ because it says, “too little is known about DPA,”
However, it has been found, that DPA “completely abolishes” the post-meal fat response and its rise also generates pro-resolving anti-inflammatory metabolites, Cameron-Smith pointed out. Again, there has been no comparison between beef and lamb, he noted.
“The true benefits are not yet fully known about consumption of red meat protein by the elderly, young, sport/exercise conscious or in relation to weight loss and as such this represents a significant opportunity for the marketing and positioning of New Zealand’s premium red meat products. Surpisingly, little is known of Omega 3s and 6s, either.” he summarised.
“There are many opportunities for the meat industry to start exploring why meat can be beneficial in an ageing population.”
This article has appeared in Food NZ magazine (August/September 2013) and is reproduced here with permission.