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Lean, Mean Fighting Machine Needs Fat

By Jill Lee
March 18, 1997

Wanted: High-energy beef sticks to sustain U.S. military troops during times of high physical stress.

A low-fat diet is normally recommended for healthy eating. But when military personnel are in combat or other situations where physical demands are enormous, they need the extra nutritional energy that a high-fat snack can provide. An ideal snack for this purpose would have 40 percent fat, 30 percent carbohydrates, 25 percent protein and 5 percent moisture. The only problem: The high temperatures needed to make such a product would melt the fat out of it.

Scientists with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service have discovered that adding fiber from the insides of peas helps meat retain almost all of its fat during heating without affecting flavor.

Fat isn’t always stable in foods. It naturally breaks down over time, and cooking or refrigeration can speed up the process. When fat degrades in low-fat foods, flavor fades. The ARS scientists will evaluate pea fiber’s potential as an ingredient in low-fat meat products, where any loss of fat during cooking can be detrimental.

The ARS researchers have tested the fat-holding potential of several plant-based binders including soy fiber, rice and sunflower meal. Of all the additives, only pea fiber retained essentially all of the fat. Pea fiber also improved cooking yields of ground beef. Next, the scientists will help the military find the right combination of pea fiber, starch and fat for maximum nutrition in their meat sticks. They’ll also take a look at how well the formula holds up under extrusion machines needed to make the snacks.