Why Is Meat Important
In many parts of the world, meat makes up a considerable portion of a typical diet. It contributes protein, minerals, vitamins and fat, and these nutrients are important for their beneficial effects on your well-being. However, some components of meat, such as saturated fats, can confer negative health consequences. It’s up to you to weigh the pros and cons when you’re choosing whether to include meat in your diet.
The protein you consume each day supplies your body with a pool of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein molecules. Your cells use these amino acids to synthesize new proteins as you need them – for example, to build muscle tissue, manufacture antibodies or replace red blood cells. Of the 20 amino acids in proteins, your body can make 11 of them. The other nine, known as essential amino acids, must be included in the foods you eat to avoid a protein deficiency. Meat is important in your diet because it is a protein-rich food that supplies you with all the essential amino acids you need for good health.
Minerals, Including Iron
In addition to offering significant protein, meat provides a wide variety of minerals to support the optimal functioning of your cells and tissues. For instance, it is an important source of both iron and zinc. Iron helps carry oxygen to and throughout your tissues, while zinc is required for a strong immune system, wound healing and enzyme activity within your cells. The phosphorus content of meat helps keep your bones strong, the sulfur it contains can be incorporated into new amino acids and the chromium found in meat assists in metabolizing your dietary sugars.
Vitamins, Especially B-12
A number of B vitamins are available from the meat you consume. Thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid and biotin help your cells extract energy from the foods you eat each day. Vitamin B-6 keeps your nervous and circulatory systems healthy, and it functions in both protein synthesis and protein metabolism. This vitamin also assists in the absorption of vitamin B-12, another vitamin essential for circulatory and nerve health, as well as energy production. Meat is an especially important source of vitamin B-12, because, unlike other B vitamins, B-12 is not found in any plant-based foods.
Fats, Including Unhealthy Fat
Although you need a limited supply of fats in your diet for good health, the saturated fats found in meat can be detrimental to your well-being. Consuming high levels of saturated fats can increase your risk of atherosclerosis, a condition in which plaque deposits form on the walls of your arteries, and can lead to heart disease. Taking in too many dietary fats, such as from fatty cuts of meat, can result in accumulation of fat stores in and around your organs, causing eventual organ damage. High fat intake can also lead to an increased risk of obesity and diabetes. Selecting lean cuts of meat and trimming off excess fat help minimize the harmful effects of meat while allowing you to benefit from its rich nutrient content.
A Meaty Choice
Plenty of Americans – though far from a majority – manage to live without meat in their diet. By some counts, 2 percent of Americans are vegetarian and one in four vegetarians is vegan. (Vegetarians are those who have cut meat, fish and chicken from their diets while vegans eradicate all products that come from an animal, including eggs and all dairy products.) The Mayo Clinic seems to support these dietary choices: “A plant-based diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, legumes and nuts, is rich in fiber, vitamins and other nutrients. And people who don’t eat meat — vegetarians — generally eat fewer calories and less fat, weigh less and have a lower risk of heart disease than nonvegetarians do. Even reducing meat intake has a protective effect. Research shows that people who eat red meat are at an increased risk of death from heart disease, stroke or diabetes.” But what about people who simply crave meat – who like nothing more than slicing into a thick, juicy steak on a Saturday night? The Mayo Clinic advises a cautious approach, or limiting that steak to a lean, 3-ounce serving size. If the issue of incorporating meat into a diet comes down to personal choice – as most dietary choices do – the clinic advocates the approach of a “flexitarian,” or someone who eats mostly plant-based foods but sometimes indulges on meat, poultry and fish. Balance is a choice, too.
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