Is eating animal products really healthy?

The benefits of eating products of animal origin are numerous, according to the latest review of scientific literature.

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Farknot Architect | Bigstock.com
Farknot Architect | Bigstock.com

I doubt very much that many readers of this website would question the value of eating meat and eggs, but just in case a flash of doubt may have crossed your mind, you might want to find a copy of Contribution of terrestrial animal source food to healthy diets for improved nutrition and health outcomes – an evidence and policy review on the state of knowledge and gaps.

This Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) publication is the result putting terrestrial animal source foods (TASFs) under the spotlight as part of a comprehensive, science- and evidence-based global assessment of the contribution of livestock to food security, sustainable food systems and healthy diets.

This is the first of various reports and it concludes that foods derived from livestock systems provide high quality proteins, important fatty acids and various vitamins and minerals, contributing to healthy diets for improved nutrition and health.

Better than the rest

The report states that TASFs provide higher quality proteins than other foods, with some nuanced differences in digestibility. It notes, for example, that iron and zinc in red meat are more bioavailable and may be more easily digestible than when found in plant-based foods.

Where eggs are concerned, the report adds that they have high concentrations of choline and some long-chain fatty acids and, generally, TASFs are a rich source of selenium, vitamin B12 and choline. And, the report adds consumption of TASFs has been shown to counteract the effects of antinutrients found in plant foods.

But what about those plant-based meat alternatives that are supposed to offer an experience close to that of eating meat? The report points out that science related to these TASF alternatives, including cultured meat, is relatively new, but the evidence suggests that these products cannot replace TASFs in terms of nutrient composition.

The FAO study looked at data from numerous scientific papers and policy documents and overall, the evidence suggests that, among apparently healthy individuals, TASF intakes at appropriate levels benefit several health outcomes.

The authors found compelling evidence that, in adults, meat intake of 85-300 grams per day can protect against iron deficiency, for example, while for poultry it may have a protective effect in women against stroke.

The report lists numerous other benefits deriving from eating products of animal origin, but it also included some negatives, noting that there are production issues that need to be addressed. We’ll look in more detail at what the authors found in the August edition of Poultry International.


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