Why eat animal products?
Why do humans eat meat and other animal products? Animal products can improve human nutrition and heart and bone health.
Meat, such as poultry, beef, pork and fish, supply many nutrients. These include protein, B vitamins (niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, and B6), vitamin E, iron, zinc and magnesium. Protein is an important part of the diet because it functions as a building block for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood. Protein also helps the body produce the enzymes, hormones and vitamins it needs. (USDA, 2012). Eggs also supply many of these important nutrients.
B vitamins serve a variety of functions in the body. They help the body release energy, serve in the function of the nervous system, aid in the formation of red blood cells and help build tissues. Iron is used to carry oxygen in the blood. Many teenage girls and women in their child-bearing years have iron-deficiency anemia. Meat is rich in a kind of iron, called heme-iron, which can help prevent anemia. Magnesium is used in building bones and in releasing energy from muscles. Zinc is necessary for biochemical reactions and helps the immune system function properly.
Seafood contains a range of nutrients, notably omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are important because the body cannot produce them itself. Omega-3 fatty acids aid in brain development, improve heart health and can help lessen the effects of depression. Eating about eight ounces per week of a variety of seafood contributes to the prevention of heart disease. Smaller amounts of seafood are recommended for young children due to mercury concerns.
Other animal products, such as dairy products from cows, sheep and goats, can also be a nutritious source of food. Milk, cheese and yogurt are dairy products that provide calcium, potassium, vitamins and protein that help the body grow and develop. It is recommended that people eat three servings of dairy products every day. People who consume dairy products have healthier bones and teeth. It is especially important for young children to consume dairy products because their bones are still developing.
Eating animal products can also improve brain health. A study has shown that children who eat only plants and other non-animal products have delayed brain function (Louwman et al., 2000). This is because animal products contain vitamin B12, which helps to develop the brain and memory functions.
It is important to eat in moderation. Eating too much of any food can have a negative impact on your health. If you have health concerns, it might be better to select low-fat, fat-free or lean options.
Louwman, M. W., Dusseldorp, M., Vijver, J. R., Thomas, C. M., Schneede, J., Ueland, P. M., Refsum, H., & Staveren, W. A. (2000). Signs of impaired cognitive function in adolsescents with marginal cobalamin status. The Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 72(3), 762-769.
United States Department of Agriculture. (2012). Protein foods. Retrieved from http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/protein-foods.html