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.
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 add, 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
- Graph courtesy of Foodgraphs.net. See the full piece at Grassfed Meat & Dairy.
- Conjugated linoleic acid. A powerful anticarcinogen from animal fat sources. Cancer. 1994. August.
- Inverse association between dietary and serum conjugated linoleic acid and risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Nutrition and Cancer. 2008.
- 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.
- D’Urso et al. Influence of pasture on fatty acid profile of goat milk. Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition. 2008. June.
- 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.
- 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.