Role of Meat in Diet: Nutritional Values of Meat

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Role of Meat in Diet

Role of meat in diet


The consumption of meat from world and domesticated animals is evident throughout human history. Archaeological evidence supports the consumption of meat from wild animals beginning about 500000 B.C and from domesticated animals since 7000 B.C. It is thought that sheep were among the first domesticated animals, followed by cattle and pigs. Developments in refrigeration, processing, packaging, integration and transportation as well as increased relative wealth have allowed for the worldwide availability and consumption. The role of meat in diet has become significantly important in providing protein, micronutrients and essential fats.

Sources and Production of Meat:

Meat sources vary throughout the world. Pork, beef including veal, poultry, lamb/mutton, and goat meats are the most commonly consumed; however, regional variations exist. According to availability or local custom, rabbit, deer (venison) horse, camel and other mammals often serve as sources of meat. The United States is the largest producer of beef cattle accounting for 19% of global production, followed by Brazil with 14% of global production. The United States is the largest producer of turkey, providing almost half the global.

Consumption Patterns of Meat:

Red meat consumption appears to be within recommended levels in most developed countries. In contrast, average apparent meat consumption in the least developed nations is roughly 40g per capita/ day, the bulk of it as poultry and beef. Interestingly, in the decade spanning 2001-11, average estimated meat  intake in the least developed nations grew by 10g daily. A global tend in increased meat consumption is predicted with estimates suggesting that production will need to increase to 470 million metric tons by 2050 to meet worldwide demand.

Nutritional Values of Meat:


Worldwide data indicate that more than half (55%) of total dietary fat comes from vegetable products although the distribution of fat from plant versus animal-based products varies from region to region. Global disappearance data suggest that in the meat category, pork is the biggest contributor to total fat in the diet followed by poultry and beef.

Regardless to region, meat fat predominantly contributes monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) to the diet. Saturated fat (SFA) is the second most predominant fatty acid class supplied by meat. Compared to vegetable oils, grains, nuts and seeds, meat fat is low in the essential polyunsaturated fatty acids, linoleic acid and alphalinolenic acid, although both lean and dark meat poultry contain higher PUFA content than red meat.


It is essential that 40% of world’s protein intake is derived from animal products. Worldwide total protein derived significantly from meat, dairy, egg. More specifically, in the most developed nations, it is estimated that 35g of daily available protein is derived from meat. Meat is a ;rich source of high-quality protein, containing all nine essential amino acids vital for bodily functions. These amino acids aid in tissue repair, muscle growth, enzyme production, and immune function. Protein from meat helps maintain and build muscle mass, making it an integral part of the diet for athletes, active individuals and those recovering from injuries.


Meat not only has a favorable protein to energy ratio but also is nutrient-dense. So the role of meat in diet acts as  micronutrients. A serving of meat (100g)is a concentrated source of the trace minerals iron, zinc and selenium. Red meat or dark poultry meat supplies up to 20% of adult daily requirements for iron. Beef is the richest source of zinc followed by lamb with beef providing up to 45% of zinc requirements. All meat provides at least 30% of average selenium requirements with perk being the most significant, providing over half the recommended daily intake

Meat is also a key source of B vitamins. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products, and thus, individuals adhering to a diet free from animal products are at risk for developing a deficiency. Beef liver is one of the best sources of B12 providing more than ten times recommended intakes in a 100g serving. Pork is notable as a particularly rich source of thiamine. Poultry meat and pork are also leading meat sources of vitamin B6 and niacin.

Growth and Development Relation with Meat:

The role of meat in diet plays significantly in the transitional stage from 6 to 12 months, when infants are introduced to complementary foods (solid and liquid) is viewed as a particularly vulnerable and dangerous period for development of diseases of malnutrition, including stunting and wasting, starvation. Iron deficiency anemia is the most common nutrient deficiency in the world, affecting the growth and development of infants and young children.

Proteins are the building blocks of life and meat is the prime source of protein. The protein contents in meat help in repairing of tissues as well as growth and development of muscle specially in the growing age. During the period of childhood, adequate intake of protein from meat sources becomes more crucial to fulfil the demands in growing period.

Muscles Development and Meat Relation:

Middle-aged and older adults often experience a gradual loss of muscle mass and function known as ‘sarcopenia’. Stressors such as illness and injury resulting in bed rest or decreased activity often hasten in progression. While many factors contribute to the development of sarcopenia, diet, specifically protein intake, is an important consideration. The protein intake through meat improves postprandial muscle protein synthesis. Further, the high leucine content of meat and dairy supports muscle protein synthesis.

Relation Between Cancer and Meat:

Studies reporting positive association between red meat and cancer are often confounded by an unhealthy lifestyle, including smoking, higher body weights, and inadequate physical activities. Meat, particularly red meat, has often been associated with a ‘Western’ dietary pattern characterized by high intakes of animal products, refined sugars, and fats, which collectively are thought to contribute to an increased risk of various chronic diseases.

Processed meats, including bacon, sausages, and deli meats have been specifically linked to an increased risk of certain cancer. These meats often undergo preservation processes like smoking, caring or salting, leading to the formation of potentially carcinogenic compounds such as N-nitroso compounds and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These compounds have been associated with a higher risk of colorectal, stomach and pancreatic cancers.

Relation Between Heart Disease and Meat:

Early research examining dietary patterns and risk of developing chronic disease determined a relationship between excess dietary fat intake and development of cardiovascular disease. High animal fat intake, particularly from red meat, was marked as a culprit in raised blood total and LDL cholesterol levels. However, more recent data from high quality RCTs have demonstrated that diets designed to reduce CHD risk are as successful at achieving target blood lipid levels and may be easier to adhere to long term,  if they contain sufficient protein from lean and red meat.


In developed countries, the role of meat in diet contributes significantly to daily protein and micronutrient intakes, but as a source of dietary fat, its positive role in the diet has been confounded by dietary patterns associated with caloric excess in developing countries. Meat consumption has been a fundamental component of the human diet throughout history. Today, global demand for meat continues to increase. A substantial contributor of high quality protein and essential micronutrients, meat intake has an important role in nourishing human.

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