LINCOLN, NEB. University of Nebraska-Lincoln nutrition scientist Tim Carr is working on a food additive that would combat cholesterol by combining two unexpected sources -- soybeans and beef tallow.
Saturated fats have long been seen as an artery clogging peril among the health conscious.
But Carr has found in his research that stearic acid, a saturated fat contained in beef tallow and some other fats, actually lowers cholesterol.
Now he's developed a powdered food additive based on that research to reduce blood cholesterol.
"I've built on the earlier discovery of the good saturated fats," he said.
Carr has devised a way to mix amounts of stearic acid with plant sterols creating a compound that should prove to be more easily incorporated into foods than similar additives on the market.
That plant substances called sterols lower cholesterol is nothing new. But the substances don't dissolve in water. While mixing them with oils or fats improves their solubility, it limits their use to higher fat foods such as margarine or salad dressing.
"Here we have this nice ingredient for lowering cholesterol but we can only deliver it in high-fat foods," Carr said. "What's wrong with this picture?"
Carr is combining stearic acid-rich beef tallow with soybean-derived sterols.
While commercially available plant sterols are gooey and stick to food manufacturing equipment, Carr's compound can easily be made into a powder that could in theory be added to anything from breakfast cereals to chocolate.
The university is patenting the technology.
So far Carr's tests of the effectiveness of the compound on animals has been encouraging.
In hamster feeding trials, Carr's College of Education and Human Sciences team found the compound lowered LDL cholesterol -- the bad kind -- by 70 percent. Meanwhile the commercial sterol additive lowered cholesterol by only 10 percent.
Both additives work the same way -- by blocking cholesterol absorption in the small intestine. The gastrointestinal tract usually absorbs 50 percent to 60 percent of cholesterol, which winds up in the blood stream where it can contribute to heart disease.
"With our compound, absorption is in the 3 to 5 percent range," Carr said. "That's highly effective."
The next big step for Carr is to find funding for human clinical studies.