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Old Wednesday, May 23, 2007
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Default The meaty benefits

The meaty benefits

Meat consumption has been at the centre of hundreds of discussions, primarily because of the cholesterol content of meat and chronicled link to heart problems, as well as a variety of other health problems. On the other hand, eating meat is advantageous since it is recognised as one of the most nutritious foods not only because of its high-quality proteins and excellent amino acid balance, but also in most industrialised nations there are not many food items that can compete with it for its contribution to the diet.
By Irfan Danish

In 1902, Atwater in the Principles of Nutrition and Nutritive Value of the Food stated, "unless care is exercised in selecting food, a diet may result which is one-sided or badly balanced .... and the evils of overeating may not be felt at once, but sooner or later they are sure to appear, perhaps in an excessive amount of fatty tissue, perhaps in general debility, or perhaps in an actual disease." It appears that times have not changed. The 1980, 1985, and 1990 Dietary Guidelines show that the approach is becoming more positive. For example, instead of recommending that individuals avoid too much fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, the modern guidelines recommended that one choose a diet low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol. However, one statement that did not change is, eat a variety of food.

Despite that statement, meat consumption has been at the center of hundreds of discussions, primarily because of the cholesterol content of meat and chronicled link to heart problems, as well as a variety of other health problems. In nutritional science, the fat consumption issue and its relationship to health is considered to be one of the most important areas of concern and investigation. It is true that excessive fat must be avoided just like excessive sugar or salt, but adequate amounts of fat are essential for health since fat supplies energy, essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins. What is 'adequate' depends on an individual. It will vary not only between individuals but also within one individual, requirements differing from normal, for example, during pregnancy, lactation, and vigorous energy-demanding physical activities, or with aging and metabolic disorders.

To eat meat or not to eat meat? Health conscious consumers are often concerned by debates about how much meat is healthy, what kind is best for them and whether to eat it at all as humans are omnivorous by design and our digestive and biochemical processes can allow us to survive without eating meat. These attitudes have developed since 1950s, when the western world became aware of the association between coronary heart disease, the consumption of fats (particularly animal fat) and high levels of cholesterol in the blood.

Protein, fat and energy
Meaty and meat products are generally excellent sources of proteins containing a good balance of the essential amino acids and having a high biological value. The connective tissue proteins are exceptions and should be used in limited quantities. Meat is also a good source of most B complex vitamins, phosphorus and iron but is usually low in the fat-soluble vitamins (E and K), calcium and in vitamin C. Though it contributes significant percentages of a number of other minerals including copper, zinc, sodium, potassium and magnesium, the carbohydrate content of meat is relatively low and may disappear completely during development of rigor mortis. The glycogen content of meat plays a key role in determining the physical properties of meat and meat products.

Red meat is an excellent source of protein and energy, but it also supplies around 30 to 35 percent of the 100-130 grams of fat that Australians consume each day. Because it is energy-rich, fat from all food sources supplies about 40 percent of our energy needs, although it only makes up 15 percent by weight of the food we eat.

Nutritionists believe that to avoid a number of major diseases such as diabetes, obesity, some cancers, hypertension or heart disease, we should lessen our fat consumption by approximately 25 percent.

Susceptibility to heart disease

It is possible to lower the risk of death from heart disease, brought on by atherosclerosis over many years, by following a diet that is low in fat, or one offering a high proportion of polyunsaturated fats from plants or fish.

Atherosclerosis can lead to death by coronary occlusion and irregular beating of the heart. Such arrhythmia can also occur spontaneously leading to sudden cardiac death. Susceptibility to this later form of heart disease has also been associated with the consumption of animal fat. Research at Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has found that plant oils and marine (fish) oils reduce this risk.

It is believed that the polyunsaturated fatty acids found in these oils are instrumental in reducing arrhythmia of the heart. To some degree similar fatty acids are found in the structural fats of red meat. Work at CSIRO has also shown that lean red meat (which has had the outer fat removed) is effective in lowering cholesterol. It is not the meat, but the visible fat of meat, that is the cause of concern. It appears possible that lean red meat could diminish the susceptibility of humans to sudden cardiac death.

Lean meat, consumption and production

Lean red meat is not only a good source of protein and energy, but also has benefits in avoiding heart disease. Consumption of fat however, must be reduced.

Public demand presents a challenge to farmers and scientists to jointly explore ways and means of producing this essential food efficiently. Although processed meat with high fat content and/or preservatives has been shown to be associated with an increased risk of cancer of the colon, this risk does not appear to apply to red meat in most studies.

Meat has been criticised for lack of fibre, but this can be elevated by consuming it with other food. A variety of dietary items are always recommended. In addition to these concerns it should be pointed out that there are many advantages of consuming meat since it is recognised as one of the most nutritious foods not only because of its high-quality proteins and excellent amino acid balance, but also, in most industrialised nations there are not many food items that can compete with it for its contribution to the diet.
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