UN report supports the role of meat in healthy dietary patterns

UN report supports the role of meat in healthy dietary patterns

The United Nations (UN) has affirmed that terrestrial animal source food (TASF), within healthy dietary patterns, can make vital contributions to efforts to meet the global nutrition targets for 2025 endorsed by the World Health Assembly and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

A new report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN has outlined some of the key nutritional benefits of TASF, looking specifically at its nutrient and bioactive composition.

The report follows the publication of a guest edition of scientific journal Animal Frontier, published at the start of April, which has confirmed meat’s critical role in society. The journal edition builds on scientific debate and evidence developed through the October 2022 International Summit on the Societal Role of Meat hosted by Teagasc in Dublin.

According to the UN report, TASFs provide higher-quality proteins than other foods, with some nuanced differences in digestibility.

It also found that iron and zinc in red meat are bound in compounds that are “more bioavailable and may be more easily digested than those in which they are bound in plant-based foods.”

It stated: “Compelling evidence suggests that, in adults, meat intake of between 85 and 300 g/day can protect against iron deficiency. Poultry meat has not been studied as much as beef, but findings suggest non-significant effects on stroke risk, with subgroup analysis suggesting a protective effect in women.”

Within its key findings, the report also makes reference to the highly debated findings of the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) Study. It stated that the evidence case for red meat consumption in adults has been thoroughly assessed by the GBD report and shows some increased risk of chronic disease associated with consumption of 23 g (18–27 g) per day of red meat, and 2 g (0–4 g) per day of processed meat. However, it added: “other studies have shown non-significant effects of beef on chronic disease biomarkers.”

The UN report’s other findings include:

  • Among infants and young children, egg, milk and meat consumption has been studied, with mixed findings depending on overall diet and environmental exposure. Beef consumption in this life-course phase has been shown to improve cognitive outcomes.
  • When it comes to policy recommendations on terrestrial animal source food consumption, most policy recommendations address TASF consumption in general, followed by meat, milk and dairy products and eggs. There is significantly less coverage of offal, poultry, pig meat, meat from wild animals, and insects.
  • Science related to TASF alternatives, including plant based food and cell-cultured “meat”, is relatively new. Evidence suggests that these products cannot replace TASF in terms of nutritional composition. Microalgae are highly regarded as a TASF alternative because of their rich nutritional composition and the advantages they may offer as a natural carbon sink. Nevertheless, plant-based meat alternatives that are widely available on the market have been found to be deficient in some essential nutrients and high in saturated fat, sodium and sugar.
  • Further research is also needed to complete food-safety risk assessment for cell-cultured “meat” produced at industrial scale.

It added that findings of the document reveal some gaps in evidence and policy related to the contributions of TASF to healthy diets. For instance, a deeper understanding of the interactions of TASF nutrients and bioactive compounds with other foods in the overall diet and of the effects of TASF on nutrition, health and cognitive outcomes across the course of human lives is required.

The full report can be viewed here.

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