Metabolic Health

Complex Lipids for Enhanced Metabolic Health

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 reserch project, which is jointly funded by the High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge and First Light Foods.   Emma has held roles with the CSIRO, Australia, INRA, France and the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition. 


NameOrganisationORCID ID
Emma BerminghamAgResearch Limited
Karl FraserAgResearch Limited
Arvind SubbarajAgResearch Limited
David Cameron-SmithUniversity of Auckland
Cameron CraigieAgResearch Limited
Mariza GomesAgResearch Limited
Arjan JonkerAgResearch Limited

Public Summary

Principal Investigator: Dr Emma Birmingham, AgResearch

Collaborating Organisations: University of Auckland

The simple choice of having red meat at a meal has never been more complicated and fraught for health-conscious consumers. However, not all beef is created equal. Firstlight Foods have pioneered the development of a 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 NZ’s grass 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 grass-fed Wagyu stand out from other breeds of beef cattle. Many of the complex lipids enriched in this NZ grass-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 grass-fed Wagyu-cross beef raised the important question of what possible impact might this meat have on important health outcomes, particularly key determinants of heart disease risk. 

As a world first, the health impact of New Zealand grass-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 10 weeks, middle aged men were randomly assigned to one of the three meat or 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 Firstlight Foods – a leading New Zealand food company with strong links in farms across New Zealand, including iwi farming entities in Kerikeri, Rotorua, East Coast and Canterbury, that focuses on ethically producing 100% grass-fed Wagyu beef presented as a high-end product for consumers with high expectations who are prepared to pay a premium price for ultra-premium indulgence, ethical production and health benefits. Firstlight Foods are focusing their business growth strategies within the USA, specifically in markets where consumers are conscientious and focused on health and wellbeing. The labelled grass-fed beef market is continuing to grow, and validated health benefits of New Zealand grass-fed Wagyu-cross beef will support this uniquely New Zealand product in the global market. This research provides a scientific foundation to support Firstlight Foods’ growth as the leader in high-quality New Zealand grown beef.



  • Bermingham, E. N., Reis, M. G., Subbaraj, A. K., Cameron-Smith, D., Fraser, K., Jonker, A., & Craigie, C. R. (2018). Distribution of fatty acids and phospholipids in different table cuts and co-products from new zealand pasture-fed wagyu-dairy cross beef cattle doi://

Metabolic Health highlights

Foodomics 2019 brings international experts on the High-Value Nutrition eco-system to New Zealand

Foodomics 2019, hosted by the High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge team from the University of Auckland, will provide a platform for the country’s researchers and businesses taking premium foods for health and wellbeing to the world to gather to collaborate and learn about the latest research and opportunities.