Animal proteins are essential to children and elderly
Meats and cured meats are rich in bioavailable iron; more precisely the iron in these foods is under “emic” form that is linked to the “heme” group of hemoglobin: this form determines a direct intestinal absorption.
Because the role of iron is essential for the human body (oxygen transport, viable synthesis of molecules for chemical and metabolic processes), its deficiency leads to serious diseases (anaemia, reduced neuro-cognitive development in children etc.).
Since bioavailable iron reaches 20% of the content in meat and sausages, while in vegetables is 1%, it is understandable that meat and the products derived from it are an essential dietary approach, especially for paediatric subjects.
It is in fact demonstrated that a diet low in animal proteins (less than 20 g/day) in children from 3-5 years has a significant negative impact on their “cognitive performance”, assessed according to the Terman-Merril “score” (Scrimshaw, 1998).
The bioavailability of iron and vitamin B12 in meat is superior to that of any fortified food. Children breastfed by vegan and vegetarian mothers or weaned meatless manifest vitamin B12 deficiency with symptoms of megaloblastic anaemia, hypotonia, alterations in liver and spleen, and delays in the somatic and cognitive growth.
The high nutritional value of meat comes from its richness in proteins containing essential amino acids (i.e. indispensable to life, and only acquired with food) and other amino acids with “extra nutritional” activities, which favour for example a person’s growth is indicative about the relationship, in the human population, between meat consumption and average height.
Meat is also rich in essential minerals, in “organic” form and therefore more easily assimilated; water-soluble vitamins (B1, B2, B12, etc.). Vitamin E with antioxidant activity; nucleotides, methionine and arginine which promote energy metabolism, supporting the activity of the immune system, thus enhancing the defences against infectious diseases.
Giorgio Poli, President of Carni Sostenibili – The Sustainable Meat, is Professor of Veterinary Microbiology and Immunology of the Department of Veterinary Science and Public Health at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Milan.