Ruminant Trans Fat: A Sheep In Wolf’s Clothing?

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Dairy and beef fats may not be the artery-clogging menace that some have claimed, says leading heart disease researcher Dr. Spencer Proctor of the University of Alberta.

Proctor told the recent Canadian Farm Writers Federation conference in Edmonton that findings from his work as part of the CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) Network indicate key types of natural trans fat found in dairy and beef may actually be “healthy fats.”

In a 16-week animal model trial, University of Alberta, Proctor and colleagues found that increases in trans vaccenic acid (VA), the main type of natural trans fat found in dairy and beef products, showed no negative effect and in fact was associated with a major lowering of triglyceride levels and a modest lowering of both total cholesterol and LDL or “bad” cholesterol, which are key risk factors for cardiovascular disease and other health threats.

The findings confirmed results from an earlier trial and now set the stage for testing out the findings in a human clinical setting, says Proctor, director of the Metabolic and Cardiovascular Diseases Laboratory located on the university campus.

“Three or four years ago we didn’t know whether this fat was good or bad. Now we are realizing it is not bad and is likely very good. It shows strong potential to result in quite significant health benefits.”

A more recent study of VA from beef, led by Dr. Donna Vine at University of Alberta, also indicates this fat is well absorbed when consumed. There is a mistaken assumption that all trans fats are detrimental to health, notes Proctor. “Our research is showing this perception is not the reality when it comes to natural ruminant trans fat.”

Proctor is Science Lead of the CLA Network, which is investigating the health potential of natural conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and related ruminant trans fats. CLA has also shown significant health potential and VA is a “precursor” to CLA – in other words, it is converted into CLA in the human body after it has been consumed.

A hurdle to getting the research done is that VA is difficult to supply in concentrated form for research use – it can cost approximately $1,000 per gram.

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