The study, published in the Journal of Food Science, suggests that lamb meat may enhance the fatty acid profile of commercial baby food, but noted that attention must be given to processing techniques to ensure that beneficial fatty acids are not lost.
“We have documented that meat from the suckling lamb is an interesting and potentially important source of omega-3-FAs, especially some of the long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) that are essential for optimal neonatal growth and development,” said the authors, led by Dr Anna Nudd from the Department of Animal Science at the Università degli Studi di Sassari, Italy.
The authors added that the results “may have special implications to the infant food industry,” as products made with meat from suckling lambs “may provide not only exceptional amounts of these fatty acids, but also other …essential nutrients such as iron.”
The authors said that the importance of fatty acids, especially long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, for optimal fetal and neonatal growth and development, “is well documented.”
“Of particular interest in this regard are arachidonic acid (ARA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) that are essential to development and function of the brain and retina,” said Nudd and colleagues.
They said that inadequate supplies of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids can negatively impact the development of the central nervous system, and may result in long-term changes in learning ability and reduced visual function.
Due to the importance of long chain PUFA during infancy, experts in the area of infant nutrition recommend substantial dietary intake, with suggested ratios of omega-6 to omega-3 of 8:1(Institute of Medicine, 2002).
In many developed countries, commercial baby foods based on meat and fish are commonly added to the infant's diet after the age of four months.
“At weaning meat is often included in a baby's meals in the form of commercially lyophilized (LIO) and homogenized (HO) products because they are considered practical to use, have high digestibility, and are presumed to be safer and more balanced from a nutritional point of view than foods prepared at home,” said the authors.
They added that although the importance of essential fatty acids in infant nutrition has been documented, “there is very little information published concerning fatty acid content of meat-based baby foods.”
The new study compared the fatty acid profiles of fresh lamb meat from suckling lambs with those of homogenized and lyophilized, commercially available, lamb-based infant foods.
The authors reported the content of total omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids was highest in fresh meat (more than three fold) compared to commercial baby food.
They found that this was largely due to higher contents of alpha-linolenic acid (1.5 times higher), eicosapentaenoic acid (six fold higher), and docosahexaenoic acid (10 times more).
Furthermore, they found that arachidonic acid was more than 6-fold higher in the fresh meat compared to homogenized and lyophilized formula products.
“In general, fatty acid composition was more similar between lyophilized and fresh meat samples than between homogenized and fresh meat samples, probably as a consequence of the high level of vegetable oil added to homogenized products,” said the authors.
“The seemingly common use of vegetable oil as an ingredient of homogenized products may cause potentially important modifications of the fatty acid composition and, consequently, lead to a difference in fatty acid profiles of …infant food products,” said Nudd and her co-workers.
The authors also reported the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in homogenized foods was 19:1. In contrast, the fresh meat and lyophilized had a more appropriate balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, with ratios closer to the recommended 8:1.
They concluded that the use of meat from suckling lambs for baby foods “may provide a reliable way to improve essential and long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) content of lyophilized products.”
Source: Journal of Food Science
Volume 76, Issue 2, pages H43–H47, doi:10.1111/j.1750-3841.2010.02027.x
“Documentation of Fatty Acid Profiles in Lamb Meat and Lamb-Based Infant Foods”
Authors: A. Nudda, M.K. McGuire, G. Battacone, M.G. Manca, R. Boe, G. Pulina