Eat Your Beef & Butter: CLA, Disease and Diet

A healthy dietary fat, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) was discovered fairly recently; however research into its potential benefits to human health are extensive.   CLA is a natural trans-fatty acid that shows strong promise in inhibiting cancer, reducing the risk of heart disease and fighting inflammation. (Learn more about CLA in this post: CLA: The Good Trans-fat).   CLA is primarily found in the meats and milks of grass-fed ruminant animals like cows, sheep and goats.   Moreover, CLA is not naturally found in vegetable foods and would be absent from a vegan diet were it not for the availability of synthesized CLA supplements though lactic acid fermentation as in the case of real sauerkraut may contribute miniscule amounts of CLA to the diet.

CLA Fights Disease

While no panacea for modern ills, CLA is quickly emerging as a nutrient with wide and varied health benefits.   Indeed, recent research indicates that CLA may slow the growth of malignant tumors2 and postmenopausal women who ate the most CLA enjoyed a 60% reduction in the risk of breast cancer3.

Choose Grass-fed

CLA is found in the meat and milk of ruminant animals including sheep, cows, elk, bison and goats; however, take care to choose the milks and meats of only animals raised on grass as their meat is remarkably higher in CLA than the milk and meat of animals that are not raised on grass.   Indeed, CLA is largely – but not entirely – absent from the meat of feedlot cows4.   Similarly the CLA content of fresh goat’s milk is highly influenced by diet.   Goats that are pasture-raised produce milk that is not only higher in fat in general than the milk of goats that are confined to pens and fed hay (which, I might CLA-grassfed-dairyadd, is better than grain), but also considerably higher in CLA5.

In most area grass-fed meats and milks are available locally through CSAs, cow shares, farmers markets and farmstands.   If you have a difficult time finding grass-finished meat or dairy products from grass-fed cows locally, you can purchase them online (see sources for grass-finished meat and grass-fed butter and cheese).

Sources of CLA

The meat and milk of grass-fed animals offers the richest source of natural CLA. Whole milk, cream, butter, cheese and whole milk yogurt from grass-fed animals are excellent sources of CLA.   Moreover, CLA can also be found in the meat of grass-finished cows, sheep, bison, goats, elk and other ruminant animals.   Fermented dairy products may represent particularly good sources of CLA as fermentation by lactic acid bacteria actually increase the CLA content of cheese6.   Moreover, the beneficial bacteria naturally present in your digestive tract can produce CLA so take care to maintain healthy gut flora.One recent study found that milk fermented with strains of beneficial bacteria naturally found in the human digestive tract increased the amount of CLA present in the yogurt7. Remember: CLA is fatty acid so don’t trim your steaks and choose only whole milk products in order to enjoy all the delicious nourishment of this particular nutrient.

Sources for this Post

  1. Graph courtesy of   See the full piece at Grassfed Meat & Dairy.
  2. Conjugated linoleic acid. A powerful anticarcinogen from animal fat sources. Cancer. 1994. August.
  3. Inverse association between dietary and serum conjugated linoleic acid and risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women.   Nutrition and Cancer. 2008.
  4. Fincham et al. Fatty acid metabolism and deposition in subcutaneous adipose tissue of pasture and feedlot finished cattle. Journal of Animal Science. 2009. July 17.
  5. D’Urso et al. Influence of pasture on fatty acid profile of goat milk.   Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition. 2008. June.
  6. Probiotic in lamb rennet paste enhances rennet lipolytic activity, and conjugated linoleic acid and linoleic acid content in Pecorino cheese. Journal of Dairy Science. 2009. April.
  7. Synthesis of conjugated linoleic acid by human-derived Bifidobacterium breve LMC 017: utilization as a functional starter culture for milk fermentation. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. 2008. May 14.

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What people are saying

  1. Jessica says

    Hi- I love all the information you have on your website. So, hay is better than grain? The only raw milk available where I am is from cows fed hay and barley. It is so expensive and I wasn’t sure about the quality of the diet, so I have been sticking to my unhomogenized, low pasteurized milk…

    Thank you!

  2. says

    Do you know if CLA is modified by heat at all? I’m thinking in the case of cooking grassfed beef specifically. We are severely allergic to dairy and eat much of our meat cooked (my kids and I eat grassfed beef raw frequently, but my husband can’t handle it). Thanks!

  3. Jenny says

    Tiffany – to my knowledge, CLA is NOT modified by heat. Moreover, you might try ghee (see sources). In ghee, all milk solids have been removed including casein and lactose so folks who tend to be milk-intolerant can still eat ghee to no ill effects. It’s worth a try and makes a fantastic cooking oil.

    Jessica -
    Hay is definitely better than straight grain, though fresh grass is ideal. If the cows are otherwise well cared for and have access to the outdoors, that raw milk should be okay.

  4. says

    This post is great! I just sent out a few tweets about the benefits of CLA as a cellulite treatment. It’s actually the active ingredient in a lot of anti-cellulite products. It’s a shame it’s so hard to get in the standard American diet. Is it a coincidence that 90 percent of us have cellulite?

  5. Jenny says

    Hey Laryssa  -

    We REALLY love our crock.  In fact I’m whipping up a batch of sauerkraut this evening!  I have never had a bad batch from my veggie fermenter.  I hope you like yours!


  6. Rose Bohmann says

    where ccan you get a sauerkraut crock? I’m using a make-shift one now (straight-sided cookie jar and a small plate), but I’d love to invest in the real thing.

  7. Kathleen says

    This just amazes me. As a society there are those that are still trying to get people to eat meat. I have been a vegan for 8 years and have never been sick one day in those 8 years and I am not fat. I just do not agree that eating meat and butter is good for anyone and this article was probably sponsored by the meat and dairy industry. Their sales are down because so many folks are waking up and realizing that meat is poison for our bodies.

    As one doctor told me, eating meat destroys every organ in your body and is the reason for most disease in the world. Meat is flesh in some form of putrification. Honestly, who would want to put that into their mouth? There are so many meat alternatives out there that folks can eat which mimic the textures and tastes of meat and are far more healthy. It is a good alternative when making the transition from meat to becoming a vegetarian or vegan.

    Lastly, how can anyone look at that little goat in the picture with its sweet smiling face and say to themselves, I am going to kill you and eat you? To me, we need to respect and care for the animals. The number one cause of global warming is methane gas from the meat industry.

    • NancyYAz says

      This is so true and I totally agreed with you, we do not need to eat meat to be healthy and is just so cruel what the food industry does to animals to put up with demands of corporations like Mcdonald’s, Burger King and so on.. so sad!

  8. Kirsten says

    Ok Kathleen…. Why do some vegans think they need to be so negative? I was vegan for a long time, I actually developed epilepsy while vegan. I now believe it was an allergy aggravated by ‘fake’ meat products… the straight wheat gluten, and soy products, plus other stuff that goes along with processed foods (which fake meat is). Not to mention the lack of B-12 in a vegan diet (essential to the nervous system). Being vegan can be just as unhealthy as other diets too! Now I will drink raw goats milk and products, have my own spoiled chickens for eggs, … and NO fake meat! If you actually read the site you would find the philosophy is right in line with a lot of yours too. No factory farming, healthy whole foods, respect…. BTW this article also mentions a vegan way to get this nutrient, so it is veggie friendly! take a breath and relax…..

  9. Adrienne says

    Thank you Kirsten for posting. I would also like to add that most imitation meat products are soy and, we all know the story of where that comes from. I agree that eating meat is not for everyone but, do believe that vegetarians and vegans need to be more educated on how to encorporate whole foods and complementing proteins to ensure they are getting proper nutrition. There are many things to consider when eating vegan : climate, body constitution, allergy, and time. Finally we should all learn to bless and thank our food before eating, dead or alive

  10. Elle says

    I am so glad to find this site – I raised 5 kids and 2 adults on an acreage that was self-sustaining and we were all healthy as could be. Real food is where it’s at.

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