Complex Lipids for Enhanced Metabolic Health


Public Summary

Principal Investigator: Dr Emma Bermingham, AgResearch
Industry partner: University of Auckland

The apparently simple choice of having red meat at a meal has never been more complicated for health-conscious consumers. For example, not all beef is created equal. First Light Foods have pioneered the development of New Zealand Wagyu-cross beef cattle, raised on New Zealand’s rich pastures, to create the finest quality beef with superior taste and tenderness. This unique beef is extensively and naturally marbled meat, rich in long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and essential complex lipids such as phospholipids and sphingolipids due to both the unique genetics and New Zealand’s pasture-raising practices. AgResearch has undertaken detailed mass-spectrometric lipid analytics that has provided First Light beef with a detailed fingerprint of the exact fat mixture that makes their New Zealand pasture-fed Wagyu stand out from other breeds of beef cattle. Many of the complex lipids enriched in this New Zealand pasture-fed Wagyu-cross beef have known benefits for preventing chronic diseases like heart disease – but in a modern Western diet, these can often be in short supply. The superior levels of healthful lipids in New Zealand pasture-fed Wagyu-cross beef raise the important question of what possible impact might this meat have on important health outcomes, particularly key determinants of heart disease risk.

In a world first study, the health impact of New Zealand pasture-fed Wagyu-cross beef was compared directly against grain-finished beef and a plant-based meat alternative by nutrition researchers at the University of Auckland. Over 8 weeks, middle aged men were randomly assigned to one of the two meat, or one meat alternative, products. Each man ate 3 meals each week containing these meat (or meat-less) alternatives. Blood samples from each participant are now being analysed to pinpoint any changes in “good”- and “bad”-cholesterol (lipoproteins) and levels of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. The results will be finalised by the end of June 2019, with the aim of understanding whether grass-fed New Zealand Wagyu-cross beef, in addition to being tasty, can also be an important part of a healthy diet.

This project has been developed with First Light Foods – a leading New Zealand food company with strong links to farms across New Zealand, including iwi farming entities in Kerikeri, Rotorua, East Coast and Canterbury, that focuses on ethically producing 100% pasture-fed Wagyu beef. This product is presented as a high-end option for consumers with high expectations who are prepared to pay a premium price for ultra-premium indulgence, ethical production and health benefits. First Light Foods are focusing their business growth strategies within the USA, specifically in markets where consumers are conscientious and focused on health and wellbeing. The market for labelled pasture-fed beef is continuing to grow, and validated health benefits of New Zealand pasture-fed Wagyu-cross beef will support this uniquely New Zealand product in the global market. This research provides a scientific foundation to support First Light Foods’ growth as the leader in high-quality New Zealand grown beef.


Research Team

Emma Bermingham

Emma is a Senior Research Scientist at AgResearch and is the Principal Investigator for the Complex Lipids for Enhanced Metabolic Health research project. 

Emma has held roles with the CSIRO, Australia, INRA, France and the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition