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Christmas dinner could reduce the risk of heart disease

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Researchers from the University of Reading have found that eating turkey in the future could lead to a healthier heart.

Experts have discovered that increasing the amount of omega-3 fatty acid in chicken feed increases the quantity of this beneficial acid in the edible meat.

In the past oily fish, like salmon and mackerel, were regarded as the best source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, only 30 percent of the UK population currently eats oily fish, and with the incidence of cardiovascular disease increasing, finding a new source of omega-3 could be hugely beneficial.

Dr Caroline Rymer, from the University of Reading's Division of Food Production and Quality in the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, and Principal Investigator on the project, said: "The health benefits of eating oily fish are evident, but a relatively low number of people consume this food source. Therefore, transferring the health benefits gained from eating oily fish to another more popular food such as chicken could reduce the risk of heart disease for a large proportion of the population."

Technically the  long-chain omega-3 fatty acids can be synthesised in the body from other fatty acids found in, for example, vegetable oils and green leafy vegetables, but research indicates that this synthesis does not happen efficiently, particularly in men.

The synthesis occurs in steps, and it is thought that the first step, that produces a fatty acid called stearidonic acid (SDA), of converting plant oil to long-chain omega-3 fatty acids is the hardest to overcome.

One solution would be to skip this step and get stearidonic acid into the diet, which can then be converted into the beneficial long-chain omega-3 fatty acids.

In the study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition and funded by Monsanto Company, chickens were fed soya bean oil specially enriched with SDA to find out if this meant that their edible meat would contain increased amounts of SDA.

Dr Rymer said: "Our results showed that feeding chickens a diet rich in stearidonic acid produced edible meat enriched with SDA. One hundred grams of breast meat from birds fed their conventional diet had just 13 mg of SDA. One hundred grams of breast meat from the birds fed the enriched soya oil had 520 mg of SDA.”

The minimum recommended intake of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids is 450 mg per day. Any negative effects on the taste and smell of the meat, which can happen when feeding chickens directly with omega-3 fatty acids in the form of fish oil, were reduced.”

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