To improve the nutritional value of meat, researchers have been examining how to increase levels of 'healthy' fatty acids, particularly the 'long chain' Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in oily fish but are also in meat, usually at very low levels. Our diets have seen a big decrease in these nutrients from the time when we were 'hunter gatherers', and a parallel rise in the Omega-6 fatty acids, which are in plant oils, the source of most of the fat we eat. An imbalance in the ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids is implicated in the onset of several diseases including cancer.
An effective way to fortify meat with Omega-3 fatty acids is to include them in the animal's diet, from which they are incorporated into tissues following digestion. In pigs, this process is very efficient compared with ruminants, in which the rumen changes the structure of the fatty acids. Including linseed in the pig's diet increases levels of alpha-linolenic acid, which the pig then uses to produce the 'long chain' fatty acids. In lean muscle, it is difficult to raise these to the 200mg/100g level necessary to produce health benefits. However, the 'long chain' fatty acids are also produced in fat tissue and the high levels required are achieved in sausages or pork mince made from muscle and fat from pigs fed about 5% linseed.
Unfortunately, at these higher levels, the tendency of the 'long chain' Omega-3 fatty acids to be broken down (oxidised) becomes more apparent. Aromatic products are released, which cause 'off' or 'rancid' odours. Potentially, this process can be arrested by including antioxidants in the pig's diet and the meat. The search is on for technology that allows nutritionally significant levels of 'long chain' Omega-3 fatty acids to be incorporated into meat without the negative effects on odour and flavour.
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