Beef and dairy products identified as “functional foods”

By Peter Kent

The advice “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” urged by medical sage Hippocrates nearly 2,500 years ago is finding new advocates today. Public interest has soared in the health-enhancing role of specific foods, called functional foods, and Clemson researchers are at the forefront of the field.

After years of battling to keep its place on dinner plates, beef turns out to be a significant source of biochemical compounds that fight cancer and control weight. Clemson animal scientist Tom Jenkins is seeking to stimulate production of these beneficial bio-compounds in beef and dairy cattle.

The anti-carcinogenic fatty acid called conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, was first identified in grilled beef in 1987. The highest concentrations are found in fat from beef, dairy and lamb. Remarkably, the beneficial acid increases as foods are cooked or processed.

In addition, some of the fats in milk and dairy products have been shown to help suppress stomach tumors in mice and mammary cancer in rats. More recently, CLA has been investigated for its ability to alter body composition, posing a tantalizing possibility for weight loss. Mice fed CLA-supplemented diets had 60% less body fat and a 14% increase in lean body mass compared to the control group.

Jenkins and fellow animal scientists are seeking to increase the beneficial fat content in milk by modifying dairy cows’ diets.

For information: Tom Jenkins, 864-656-2702,