Diets rich in saturated fat cause heart disease by increasing cholesterol levels, while those high in omega-3 and other polyunsaturated fatty acids [PFAs]can reduce the risk of heart disease, studies have shown. Hence any attempt to increase PFAs and reduce saturated fats is welcome. A study published online in the Journal of Dairy Science tries to go to the source to fix the problem – the cow!
The constituents of milk from a cow are determined what the cow is fed. Feed healthier stuff to the cow and the milk will be more nutritious. Traditional cattle feed mixtures of corn, grains, hay and grass lead to dairy products with low concentrations of omega-3 and other polyunsaturated fats, according to Gerd Bobe, the lead scientist on the study conducted by Oregon State University.
He fed 10 pregnant cows in OSU's dairy were fed different amounts of flaxseed – up to seven percent of their daily diet. The researcher team had to balance the quantity of flaxseed so that the amount of omega-3 in milk and dairy products is maximised but the production and texture is not compromised.
"We were looking for a sweet spot,” said Bobe, an expert in human and animal nutrition. “Too much of a good thing can be bad, especially when trying to maintain consistency with dairy products.”
The study found that feeding cows up to six pounds of extruded flaxseed improved the fat profile without negatively affecting the production and texture of the milk and other dairy products. At that quantity, saturated fatty acids in whole milk fat dropped 18 percent, poly-unsaturated fatty acids increased 82 percent, and omega-3 levels rose 70 percent compared to feeding no flaxseed. Similar improvements were observed in butter and cheese after the milk was processed to make butter and cheese.
Also, the cows produced the same amount of milk while eating flaxseed.
Although flaxseed is costlier than traditional cattle feed, Bobe hopes that it still could be an affordable feed supplement because products enriched with omega-3 can sell for a premium at the grocery store.
"Many consumers already show a willingness to pay extra for value-added foods, like omega-3 enriched milk," he said.
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