Article by Ellie Hadjilucas, Public Health Nutritionist and Sports Nutritionist
A new report by the UN's World Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has determined that meat, eggs and milk are vital sources of nutrients such as protein, fat and carbohydrates that are not easily found in plant foods. That is why it is especially vital during key stages of life, such as pregnancy and lactation, childhood, adolescence and older age, according to the study by the World Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Contribution of food of terrestrial animal origin to a healthy diet for improved nutrition and health outcomes'.
This study is the most comprehensive analysis to date of the benefits and risks of eating animal-based foods and is based on data and evidence from more than 500 scientific studies and around 250 policy documents.
In detail, meat, eggs and milk provide a range of important macronutrients: Protein, Fat, Carbohydrates and micronutrients that are difficult to obtain from plant foods in the required quality and quantity, the report says.
At the same time, high-quality protein, certain essential fatty acids, iron, calcium, zinc, selenium, vitamin B12, choline and bioactive compounds such as carnitine, creatine and taurine are provided by animal foods and have important functions in protecting health and enhancing development.
Importantly, iron and vitamin A are among the most common micronutrient deficiencies worldwide, particularly in children and pregnant women. Globally, more than 1 in 2 preschool children (372 million) and 1.2 billion women of reproductive age suffer from a deficiency of at least one of the three micronutrients: Iron, Vitamin A, Zinc.
Role and contribution to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
Foods of animal origin, if consumed as part of a balanced diet, can help meet the nutritional targets endorsed by the World Health Assembly and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to wasting, low birth weight, anaemia. in women of reproductive age and obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in adults.
But, at the same time, the livestock sector "must contribute to addressing a number of challenges", the report states.
These include issues related to the environment (e.g. deforestation, land use changes, greenhouse gas emissions, unsustainable water and land use, pollution, etc.), herd management (e.g. low productivity, overgrazing, poor or good animal welfare ), all, issues related to animal health (e.g. diseases) etc.
Governments should promote the benefits of sourcing food from land animals, but take into account the challenges associated with livestock farming, including environmental issues.
The bigger picture and the dangers of consuming red meat
Regarding the risks of eating animal-based foods, the report states that eating even low levels of processed red meat can increase the risk of mortality and result in some chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and colon cancer. However, eating unprocessed red meat in moderate amounts (ranging from 9 to 71 grams per day) may have minimal risk but is considered safe in terms of chronic disease outcome.
Meanwhile, evidence for any link between milk, egg and poultry consumption in healthy adults and diseases such as coronary heart disease, stroke and hypertension is inconclusive (for milk) or not significant (for eggs and poultry) .
Finally, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) called on all governments worldwide to update national dietary guidelines where appropriate. The aim is to highlight meat, eggs and milk as useful food products for the human body in a specific context.