Toward a better burger: "Where's the selenium?"

Agricultural researchers report that beef raised on the Northern Plains contains unusually high levels of selenium, an important cancer fighter. But they say it's too early to know whether any significant benefit to humans will result.

Their finding is published in the February Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a monthly peer-reviewed journal of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

A key objective of the study - conducted by U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers - was to determine whether a direct connection exists between concentrations of selenium in the soil and in beef. Specifically, the USDA scientists wanted to know whether beef from areas with soil high in selenium accumulates high concentrations of the mineral.

It does, they learned, and according to lead researcher John W. Finley, a chemist at USDA's Grand Forks Human Research Center in North Dakota, "In some areas the selenium concentrations were high enough to supply more than one day's selenium requirement in a modest 100 gram serving of beef (approximately the size of a hamburger patty)." In contrast, the average burger contains only about one-third of the daily selenium requirement, Finley said.

Researchers consider the finding important in light of a long-term cancer study completed in 1996. The study, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, involved the treatment of 1,312 skin cancer patients over 4.5 years plus a 6.4-year follow-up period. According to Finley, selenium had no effect on skin cancer, but the study "found that 200 micrograms per day of supplemental selenium reduced the incidence of all cancers by more than 50 percent and specifically reduced the incidence of lung, colo-rectal and prostate cancers."

On average, beef is the single largest source of selenium in the North American diet at about 20 percent of the total dietary requirement, Finley said. He added that concentratio

Contact: Beverly Hassell
American Chemical Society

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