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Ongoing research at the Riddet Institute is proving the health benefits of pasture-raised beef over grain-based feedlot beef, even plant-based pretenders

Rural News / opinion
Ongoing research at the Riddet Institute is proving the health benefits of pasture-raised beef over grain-based feedlot beef, even plant-based pretenders
pasture beef, feedlot beef, artificial beef

This week we are continuing to explore the research that compares pasture-raised beef and lamb versus grain-finished livestock, and versus protein alternatives.

On the show I have Dr Lovedeep Kaur from Massey University and the Riddet Institute reviewing the interim results of the second stage of research that explores how the human digestion system responds to these alternatives and how their nutrients are then absorbed by the body. 

The researchers found the protein from both the pasture-raised and grain-finished cuts of beef digested in a similar way, but significant differences were observed for fat or lipid digestion. Digestion of meat from pasture-raised animals released greater levels of "good" fats, relative to the generally considered “bad” fats.

Dietary intake of long-chain omega-3 PUFAs has been recommended as these fatty acids have been reported to promote lowering of total cholesterol and fats in the blood stream of people with high blood cholesterol. This suggests potential health benefits of consuming pasture-raised beef. The plant-based alternative tested in this study had no long chain omega-3 PUFAs.


Kaur says the research highlighted that meat protein is generally highly digestible and meat with higher digestibility is better for your body. As plant proteins are generally known to be less digestible than meat proteins, the plant-based meat substitute showed relatively lower protein digestibility.

Differences in processing and other non-protein ingredients could also be responsible for the observed differences in protein digestibility, she says. “Scientists generally agree that higher rates of release of amino acids [protein building blocks] during the digestion of meat leads to beneficial effects in muscle, such as maintenance or gain in muscle mass. This is particularly important for the elderly in managing sarcopenia [muscle wasting] and for athletes who want to increase muscle mass, for example. What was interesting to see in our research was that while an animal’s protein composition is largely determined by its genetics, and the samples we tested contained highly digestible proteins, the composition of the fat in an animal, particularly the long-chain PUFAs, is largely affected by what it has been eating,” Kaur says.

What is particularly interesting is that the findings are showing that meat digested from pasture-raised New Zealand beef showed higher total amounts of free long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, and lower amounts of free, long chain saturated fatty acids, than meat from grain-finished cattle. In simple terms, long chain saturated fatty acids increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Although the research is not complete, these initial finding highlight the nutritional benefits of pasture-raised red meat that we produce in New Zealand, over grain-raised red meat.

Dietary intake of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids has been recommended in dietary guidelines worldwide (UN-Food & Agriculture Organization, United States Department of Health, as well as dietary guidelines from the Ministry of Health, Health Navigator and the Nutrition Foundation). As far as protein alternatives go, well given the highly processed nature of these, you would be forgiven for staying well clear.

Listen to the podcast to get the full story and full perspectives.

Angus Kebbell is the Producer at Tailwind Media. You can contact him here.

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Imagine our surprise... not!

I've had a grain/plant/cardboard-based version of a beef patty and while texture and aroma seemed to be all there, the taste was.... dry and bland. Tasted of basically nothing. "Big nothing burger" as the Yanks say...

It smelled smokey, but did not taste of it. It felt like cooked meat, but you'd have no clue from the actual (lack of) taste. AND all that for the same price or more of an actual beef patty.

Does it have the same nutrients as real beef? Highly doubt it... Certainly not the flavour, that's for sure!


If your goal is to eat less meat, then the Impossible Burger is a good option, but in moderation. If your goal is to improve your health, skip the beef and the Impossible Burger and try a plant-based patty made from bean, whole grains, mushrooms or vegetables instead. If you make a plant-based burger at home, be sure to add a source of vitamin C which is a carrier for the non-heme iron in plants. 


Most western diets have an excess of protein , and it is converted to energy , with an excess of nitrogen .

as above , most vegetarians are happy with normal plant based food , without relying on fake meat . 


Most people will end up eating foods made by fermentation, which will push real beef, grass fed, up into the high end market, which is where we want it to be.  NZ grass fed meat and dairy are becoming high end consumer products and I predict a very bright future.


Why on earth would anyone conduct a study of the differences between the long-chain omega-3 PUFAs available from pasture and grain-fed beef when 30g of walnuts (or a teaspoon of mayonnaise or canola oil) will provide more long-chain omega-3 than 1kg of beef?!?

Beef and lamb - the sunset years. 


Those funding the Riddet Institute include the Global Dairy Platform (GDP) in Chicago USA announced the funding this week. GDP is a network of dairy organizations that represents nearly 1/3 of the world’s supply of milk and is coordinating the funding for Proteos across different sectors of the global food industry.


I buy free range pork, chicken and NZ beef whenever I can which nowadays is most of the time. I can afford to but I understand that some people can't. I notice that there are more and more free range eggs as a proportion of eggs on the shelf at the supermarket which makes me happy.

Industrial feedlots are a recent phenomenon and I hope they go the way of whale oil lamps.

As the use of petrol declines so will the use of corn ethanol as part of a blended petrol. Which would be good for US farmers if those agri-subsidies were to disappear because the subsidies  benefit large corporations at the expense of the smaller farmer.

Cue the plant based burger ready to be packed with all sorts of processed corn starches and additives to keep the endless cycle of herbicide spraying and corn replanting by satellite directed tractor alive in the US Midwest.

I don't care if the dairy companies sponsor the Riddet institute. I prefer their propaganda rather than the propaganda of corn agribusiness. I'd rather have cows on pasture building up the soil than continuous corn crops killing the soil organisms with cycles of herbicide and pesticide.