You’ve probably heard arguments against eating meat, ranging from animal cruelty to the effect of livestock on the environment. However, the arguments for eating meat can also be persuasive. For example, an international study led by UCLA researchers supplemented the diet of Kenyan schoolchildren with meat, milk or vegetables; they discovered the children who ate meat “significantly outperformed children supplemented with milk in problem-solving ability.”
Meat offers valuable nutrients including protein, iron, zinc and B vitamins, according to the American Meat Institute. Your body needs proteins to build healthy muscles, bones and skin, as well as produce hormones and synthesize vitamins. Meat provides you with heme-iron, a type of iron that’s easier for your body to absorb than the type of iron found in non-meat sources like veggies and beans. Zinc helps your immune system function properly, while the B vitamin group helps regulate the nervous system and release energy.
Traditional sources of meat include cattle, poultry and fish. Some cuts of meat are healthier than others, thanks to lesser fat content. Called “lean” meats, these include cuts of beef such as top loin, top sirloin, round eye and bottom round. The leanest pork cuts include centre loin, pork loin and tenderloin. In terms of poultry, you will find boneless, skinless chicken breasts and turkey cutlets.
To keep meat lean, butchers recommend trimming away all visible fat before you cook your meat. If fat boils off or renders during cooking, drain or scrape it away to avoid ingesting it. Cooking methods, such as broiling, roasting, grilling or poaching, result in a lower-fat meal than frying. If you can, avoid serving meat with toppings or sauces that add fat and calories---breading, gravies and cream sauces are prime culprits here.
Meat is an excellent source of complete protein, containing all the amino acids your body needs to develop and maintain muscles. Vegetarian foods don’t contain complete proteins, so they aren’t as good at building and maintaining strong muscles. One study found children who consumed two spoonfuls of meat daily in addition to their regular diet had an 80-percent increase in upper-arm muscle compared to other children in the two-year study.
Meat is one of the best sources of iron in the Western diet. If you don’t get enough of this mineral from foods or supplements, you are at risk for anemia and low energy. Iron boosts your energy because it’s needed to make red blood cells, which carry oxygen from your lungs to other parts of your the body, including the brain.
One serving of beef gives you about 20 percent of your daily recommended intake of iron. Red meat contains heme iron, which is the form of iron most easily absorbed by the body, but pork, lamb and chicken are also good sources of iron as are organ meats.
Meat is a top-notch source of zinc. This mineral helps the immune system function properly and is necessary for some biochemical reactions. During the winter, zinc can be important for helping ease suffering from colds and the flu.
Vitamin B12, another nutrient found in beef, helps prevent heart disease and may play a role in lowering the risk of breast cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and depression, according to Oregon State University’s Linus Pauling Institute.
Although red meat can be a source of unhealthy fat and cholesterol, lean meat aids weight loss by making you feel fuller longer after a meal. In a 2008 study published in the “Journal of the American College of Nutrition,” small portions of roast beef and boiled beef helped produce feelings of satiety in a group of 20 normal-weight adults.
To reduce the fat and cholesterol in meat, the MayoClinic.com recommends choosing lean cuts, trimming any visible fat and using low-fat cooking methods.