The importance of polyphenols (and tannins) in meat

Polyphenols are natural antioxidants with beneficial effects on human health and have recently become highly sought after by consumers in food products.

Polyphenols are natural antioxidants with beneficial effects on human health and have recently become highly sought after by consumers in food products. The richest foods in polyphenols are fruits and vegetables, as these plant compounds are formed by plant metabolism and play various roles in growth, colour formation, reproduction and defence mechanisms.

Polyphenols include around 8000 very different compounds, but the most widespread is the flavonoids, which include anthocyanins, flavones, isoflavones and catechins, to name the best known. Then, there is the class of phenolic acids and tannins, known as the beneficial components of red wine and tea, coffee, and cocoa. Polyphenols are mainly found in fruit skins and seeds, such as the berries and skins of grapes, or highly coloured fruits, such as berries and dried fruits and spices, such as cinnamon. And in the bark and generally in the woody parts of the chestnut.

Although meat has never been considered one of the best sources of polyphenols, polyphenol supplementation in animal nutrition is becoming widespread as a new strategy to improve meat quality and prevent oxidative degradation of lipids and proteins. Modulating animal rations to increase the nutritional value of their products is a technique that is becoming more and more established and offers numerous advantages. Just think of the increase in omega-3 unsaturated fatty acids in meat and milk, thanks to the addition of linseed or other supplements to the feed, which not only has a positive effect on the animal’s immune system and well-being but also allows us to obtain better and healthy meat, with less cholesterol and less saturated fat.

Supplementation with #polyphenols in #feeds is a new strategy to improve #meat quality and prevent oxidative deterioration of #lipids and #proteins. Click To Tweet

Tannins, a special class of polyphenols, are emerging as key players in transforming and enriching meat with beneficial properties. Although polyphenols are generally known for their antioxidant properties, tannins are gaining recognition for their role in animal nutrition as part of a new strategy to improve animal health and meat quality and protect lipids and proteins from oxidative damage. In particular, the addition of tannins to ruminant diets not only improves digestion but also helps to reduce methane emissions, making this practice not only healthy but also sustainable.

Even adding polyphenols from various sources, such as oil mill effluent, has positively affected meat’s quality characteristics and shelf life, improving the fatty acid profile with a higher proportion of monounsaturated fats and reducing saturated fats and product oxidation. As wastewater from oil mills is a waste to be disposed of, its reuse in animal feed is an innovative strategy for reusing waste from the agri-food industry. Various agro-industrial by-products are widely used for this purpose, such as waste from cereal processing and the production of juices, wine and beer, i.e. pomace, peels, seeds and stalks, thus contributing to the circularity of animal husbandry.

Among the beneficial effects of polyphenols in our organism, the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour, anti-diabetic, anti-ageing, immunomodulatory, cardiovascular protection and prevention of neurodegenerative diseases deserve attention. For this reason, there is a growing interest in these new breeding techniques, which have potential benefits for human and animal health. Due to their antioxidant activity, directly incorporating these natural by-products into animal feed rations improves the meat’s oxidative stability, shelf life and quality, as mentioned above.

The addition of #tannins in the #diet of #ruminants not only positively affects their #digestion, but also helps reduce #methane #emissions. Click To Tweet

For example, this antioxidant has been found in good concentrations in the meat of pigs fed with quercetin supplements, particularly in the offal. In chickens and cattle, these techniques also enrich the meat and milk with substances that promote good health and strengthen the animals’ immune defences and production efficiency. Incorporating natural antioxidants such as polyphenols into the diets of ruminants and monogastric is now considered an effective strategy for improving the nutritional and already beneficial composition of meat in response to the ever-increasing health demands of consumers.

The "Sustainable Meats" Project aims to identify the key topics, the state of knowledge and the most recent technical scientific trends, with the aim of showing that meat production and consumption can be sustainable, both for health and for the environment.