Meat and dairy products with higher levels of the healthy fat conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) could be available in just three years, say scientists at the Rowett Research Institute in Scotland.
The researchers have received more than £200,000 (€287,626) in funding from the Scottish government to advance research into the role of microorganisms present in the cow's rumen involved in the production of different fats.
Red meat contains relatively large amounts of saturated fat, which nutritionists recommend should not be consumed in large amounts. But it also contains omega-3 fatty acids and CLA.
"The saturated fats are made in the cow's stomach, which in essence is a huge fermentation vat as big as a barrel of beer. Our research has shown that it's possible to control the microorganisms in the cow's stomach to make healthier fatty acids," said Dr John Wallace, who is leading the study at the Rowett Institute .
Researchers in Wales and France have already shown that healthy fat levels in meat can be increased by feeding herds linseed or fish oil.
"But those present in the diet are not necessarily transferred directly into the meat and milk produced by these animals," Dr Wallace told NutraIngredients.com.
"We will be focusing on one bacterial species known to be responsible for the breakdown of CLA formed in the rumen. We know that if we inhibit activity of that species, we can improve CLA flow," he added.
The Rowett team are hoping that new knowledge of the workings of rumen microorganisms will allow them to show farmers how to produce meat and milk products with a healthier lipid profile.
The products could rival foods with added CLA, emerging slowly onto the European market. CLA is offered by a small number of ingredient manufacturers but Dr Wallace claims that these do not always have the same isomer structure as that found in naturally occurring CLA.
"We feel it is better to produce this fat naturally," he said.
Ingredient firms Cognis and Loders Croklaan have however demonstrated in clinical trials that their products can help reduce body fat. CLA has also been linked to immune-boosting activity.