The basics

Let’s start by establishing an important fact: Fats are an essential component to a healthy diet. Whether you subscribe to vegan, paleo or omnivore eating styles, fat is your friend. Fats contribute to the flavor and texture of many foods, including oils, nuts, seeds, avocados, salmon and many more of what some consider the healthiest foods on the planet. Yet on a much deeper and molecular level, fats are critical to several essential functions in our bodies. Did you know that eating some types of fat can actually help reduce your cholesterol and risk for cardiovascular disease? It’s true.

Here’s where it get’s complicated

Fats in our food are made up of fatty acid chains, which consist of carbon and hydrogen atoms linked together. There are two major types of fatty acids that we eat: saturated and unsaturated. Since dietary fats are a complex topic, we’ll save saturated fats and trans fat (which is technically an unsaturated fat) for another day. For now, let’s focus on unsaturated fats.

Unsaturated fatty acids all have at least one double bond linkage between carbon atoms. These double bonds cause them to bend, kind of like how your arm bends at your elbow. This double bond limits the number of hydrogen atoms that can bind to the carbon atoms, so the molecule is not as saturated with hydrogen atoms as it could be. Thus, it’s considered “unsaturated.” Unsaturated fatty acids that have one double bond are called monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). Unsaturated fatty acids with more than one double bond are called polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). Get it? “mono” for one and “poly” for many.

Remember how I said fats were complex? Within the unsaturated fats are where we find the omega’s. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are PUFAs and omega-9 fatty acids are usually MUFAs. The omega numbers simply reference how many carbons away from the methyl end of the fatty acid chain that the first carbon-carbon double bond appears. If the double bond is three carbons away, it’s called an omega-3 fatty acid. If it’s six or nine away (you guessed it!), it’s called an omega-6 or omega-9 fatty acid, respectively.

Confusion clarified

Let’s start with the three’s. Omega-3’s are known for their benefit to heart health and come in both plant and animal forms. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is a plant form of omega-3. It’s found in flaxseed, chia seed, walnuts, and canola and soybean oils. ALA is important because it can only be obtained in the diet. Our bodies can’t make ALA, which makes it an essential fatty acid.

Omega-3’s also include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA are the marine forms of omega-3s, commonly found in cold-water fatty fish like salmon, herring, sardines, and mackerel. These fatty acids can be made from ALA in the body, but the conversion rate isn’t good. Because of this and the fact that EPA and DHA are strongly correlated with cardiovascular disease prevention, getting EPA and DHA pre-formed is the best bet. Therefore, eating at least 8 ounces of seafood each week is recommended.

Let’s move on to the six’s. Omega-6 fatty acids include arachidonic and linoleic acid. Sources of linoleic acid include vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds; arachidonic acid is found in meat and eggs. Along with the omega-3 ALA, linoleic acid is the other essential fatty acid.

In contrast to omega-3s and omega-6s, omega-9 fatty acids are usually monounsaturated and can be made in the body, making them nonessential fatty acids. The term “nonessential” means you don’t need to obtain it through food. But that doesn’t mean it’s not healthful to consume. Foods highest in omega-9 fatty acids are some of the healthiest you can imagine (for a lot of reasons). Top sources for omega-9’s in our diets are canola and olive oils, and almonds, too!

Because the topic of dietary fats can be confusing, we asked Dr. Bill Harris, a renowned expert in fatty acids, for a little clarity: “Both the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are considered ‘partners in prevention’ as it relates to heart disease. So all PUFAs are ‘good fats’. Getting adequate amounts of the plant-derived PUFAs (ALA and linoleic acid) is easy in America – we don’t need to supplement our diets with these or with the omega-9s for that matter. The one group of fatty acids that we are really deficient in is the marine omega-3’s: EPA and DHA. It makes the most sense to increase one’s intake of fatty fish and/or take a fish, krill, or cod liver oil supplement to get the EPA and DHA that is seriously lacking in the American diet.”

Let’s simplify things

While knowing more about the different types of fatty acids can help you make informed decisions about the foods you eat, it’s important to clarify one idea. A big misconception surrounding fats is that when you eat a certain food, you’re only eating one type of fat. All foods with fat in them contain a mix of different fats. Some are more prevalent, so sometimes we associate a certain food (like butter) with a specific fat (like saturated fat). But in reality you’re also getting monounsaturated fat when you eat butter. Knowing which food sources are high in the different kinds of fat can help you choose foods higher in the heart-healthy MUFAs and PUFAs and lower in saturated and trans fats. That’s what the best available scientific evidence on heart health tells us anyway: Place more emphasis on the types of fats you eat and less on the amount of fat.

Wagyu Beef

Wagyu Beef is meat with small, finely interspersed specks of fat called marbling.  The marbling is so subtle and consistent that, when prepared correctly, it bastes the steak from its interior to ensure juiciness and depth of flavour.   Marbling is the most reliable component of meat taste and tenderness.    It is measured in the carcass by video image analysis or as percentage fat.  Marbling begins at about 12 months of age and is maximised by 36 months, therefore Wagyu are ideally slaughtered as 3 year olds.

The latest research results from Pennsylvania State University were published December 2011, in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  Researchers concluded that eating monounsaturated fatty acids are better for your heart than eating special diets with lean products.  The research also shows that Wagyu meat can actually help to reduce cholesterol levels.  The marbling in Wagyu beef has the highest percentage of mono-unsaturated fat of any protein in the country.
The high degree of marbling adds an extraordinary depth of flavour that makes Wagyu beef a culinary delicacy.  As a result the meat has a delectably intense buttery flavor as well as scrumptious juiciness and breathtaking tenderness.

“These mono-unsaturated fats melt at room temperature, 5 degrees lower than the average for normal beef.  This makes Wagyu beef suitable as part of a lower-cholesterol diet.” Dr Sally Lloyd – PhD – Research Director.

Facts about Wagyu Beef:

Professor Tim Crowe, chief dietitian with Deakin University’s School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences and an Accredited Practicing Dietitian, has built a compelling argument for the promotion of Wagyu beef as a ‘healthy alternative‘ in a balanced diet.  His statements are based on the unique high concentration of beneficial omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids found in Wagyu beef.  While sharing the highest source of omega 3 fatty acids, meat products are another significant source.  Omega 3 is known to aid in protection against heart disease, arthritis, depression, Alzheimer’s, and high blood pressure, among other things.

The unique advantage in Wagyu is that it contains a much higher proportion of the desirable mono-unsaturated fats than other beef.  Dr Crowe said the mono-unsaturated/saturated fat ratio was up to 300% higher in Wagyu than other beef. 50% of all marbling within a Wagyu carcass was made up of oleic acid (mono-unsaturated), while a relatively small portion was saturated fat.

“But even the saturated fat contained in Wagyu is different.  40% of it is in a version called stearic acid, which is regarded as having a minimal impact in raising cholesterol levels. The profile of marbled Wagyu beef is very beneficial to human health. It can be described as a healthier type of meat”, he said.

According to Dr. Stephen B. Smith from the Department of Animal Science at Texas A&M University, Wagyu beef is the healthiest beef we can produce. Also, corn-fed beef is good for you, and the brisket contains the healthiest fat on the carcass.  When you produce high quality beef, you also produce healthy beef.

In Japan, beef palatiability is positively correlated with the amount of oleic acid in beef.  The Asian markets prefer beef that contains elevated oleic acid (softer fat).

The results of a study led by Dr. Smith found that oleic acid has positive health benefits. Increasing oleic acid in beef has a measurable effect on cholesterol metabolism in human subjects.  According to Kris-Etherton and Yu, 1997, foods high in oleic acid decrease LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol.

Dr. Smith found that modifying the fatty acid composition of beef can be done naturally and practically.  Further, beef from Wagyu cattle is healthier because it is genetically enriched with oleic acid. As we increase oleic acid through feeding programs, saturated and trans-fatty acids in beef are reduced.

This Research is proof that Wagyu Beef is:       “As healthy for the human body as olive oil or a fillet of Atlantic salmon.”


High ratio of mono-unsaturated fat to saturated fat:

  • Lowers cholesterol
  • Prevents coronary disease
  • Helps weight loss

Significant amounts of oleic acid:

  • Good for the heart

High levels of Conjugated Linoleic acid:

  • Contribute to weight loss
  • Improve the immune system
  • Helps fight cancer
  • Reduce the risk of Heart Disease
  • Reduce the risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Pure Wagyu beef has the lowest cholesterol of almost any kind of meat:

  • Per 100 grams:
    Wagyu    – 10 mg
    Fish        – 28 mg
    Turkey    – 36 mg
    Chicken – 32 mg
    Buffalo   – 39 mg
    Rabbit   – 32 mg
    Venison – 45 mg

Sources :     Washington State University;   Texas A&M University;   Penn State University;   Lethbridge Research Centre, Canada;   Journal of the American Heart Association;   Journal of Scientific Neurology;   Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Nutrition Information :    USDA,  Agricultural Research Service, 2006.  USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference,  Release 18.  Nutrient Data Laboratory.