Institute scientist Hilakivi-Clarke receives grant to study possible benefits of organic, pasture-raised beef

Published 3:07 pm Wednesday, June 5, 2024

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Leena Hilakivi-Clarke, PhD, professor at The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota, is the recipient of a two-year grant of more than $250,000 from Applegate Farms, LLC, a subsidiary of Hormel Foods Corporation. 

The grant will support research performed by the Institute’s clinical studies group to investigate whether eating pasture-raised, organic beef improves gut microbiome composition and increases fecal production of key health-promoting microbial metabolites, like short chain fatty acids. 

The effect of beef consumption on inflammatory and metabolic parameters will also be studied. If study findings reveal that consuming organic, pasture-raised beef improves gut health and suppresses inflammatory markers, it would highlight the significant impact of farming practices on human health. 

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Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for a number of bodily processes, like improving immune system functions, reducing inflammation, improving cardiac health, and more. Research has also shown omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in promoting a healthy gut microbiome. 

When the ratio of helpful to harmful bacteria in the gut is out of balance (known as gut dysbiosis), this can lead to gut and overall inflammation. There are plenty of other factors that can give rise to chronic inflammation as well, including obesity. While initially important in protecting the body from infection, chronic inflammation increases the risk for a range of serious diseases, including cancer. 

“Beef from pasture raised, organic steers contains omega-3 fatty acids that we normally obtain from consuming fish,” Hilakivi-Clarke said. “That is because steers are able to convert plant oils [ALA] to fish oils [EPA and DHA]. Humans cannot do that and therefore need to consume fish or take supplements to get enough omega-3 oils which are essential to maintain health. Consuming organic beef also provides humans with these essential oils. Further, organic beef contains plant-derived chemicals which are anti-inflammatory, improve insulin sensitivity, and have other health benefits.” 

The study will recruit 40 individuals with overweight or obesity, who will consume beef from either pasture-raised or grain-fed steers. Participants will be placed on a four- or eight-week intervention at two separate points during the study. 

“Among agencies setting nutritional guidelines, red meat has acquired a reputation of being an unhealthy food. This perception is partly based on indirect evidence showing that people who eat red meat are most likely to develop non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, heart failure, or type 2 diabetes,” Hilakivi-Clarke said. “However, it may not be red meat that is bad for us, but lack of fiber, vegetables and fruits from a diet of individuals who prefer eating red meat.

“Further, how beef is raised might be important,” she continued. “Organic beef contains both fish oils and plant-derived chemicals that prevent inflammation.” 

The Hormel Institute Senior Researcher Dr. Fabia Andrade, Assistant Professor Dr. Annie Lin, Clinical Research and Outreach Lead Emily Heath, Clinical Research and Outreach Coordinator Mike Zappa, Clinical Research and Outreach Coordinator Megan Moe, and Community Outreach and Education Manager Kelly Vincelette are all assisting with this study. 

The Hormel Institute’s Clinical Studies page has more information at: