MIA Focus: Animal protein, a source of quality nutrition

Fiona Greig
Fiona Greig

At the end of September, the Riddet Institute hosted a free public lecture from Professor Teresa Ann Davis, a paediatric nutrition scientist at the USDA/ARS (United States Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Research Service) Children’s Nutrition Centre and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. Fiona Greig, head of nutrition for Beef + Lamb New Zealand Inc reflects on the lecture.

Professor Teresa Davis pointed to meat's calorie advantage over other source's of protein
Professor Teresa Davis pointed to meat’s calorie advantage over other sources of protein

The positive nutritional role of animal protein was reiterated by Professor Davis with a series of examples that proves meat and milk deliver a big bang for nutrition buck. Simply put, she stated animal foods provide a source of complete protein, and without protein, there is not life.

Complete protein means the full range of our body’s building blocks aka amino acids, are provided in a single food, opposed to the mostly incomplete protein of plant foods bar a few, that unless they are eaten in combination with each other, don’t contain the complete suite of building blocks. We don’t eat foods in isolation, rather as whole meals. Case in point is that to get 25 grams of protein from a food, which is the amount recommended for optimum muscle utilisation at each meal, you would need to eat six teaspoons of peanut butter or three cups of quinoa at three times the amount of calories than a 85g piece of lean beef. This is described as meat’s calorie advantage, that is nutrient dense – a lot in a little – or, as we have been saying in our own New Zealand messaging for some time, “nature’s power pack”. Rightly so, because meat is more than just protein and iron, that our own consumers have heard loud and clear over the years. A raft of natural vitamins and minerals are also delivered in a serving including selenium, B vitamins, phosphorus, zinc plus bioactives, creatine and coenzyme Q10 that cannot be replicated in a single food, yet.

This nutrient density was further highlighted showing that an 85g serve of lean beef provides half the daily needs for protein and at least a third of daily needs for iron, zinc, selenium, vitamin B12 and niacin.

As we all know, the demand for animal-sourced protein is growing, particularly in the developing world due to rising populations, increased urbanisation and growing incomes. This demand is forecast to increase by 75 percent by 2050. This is also an ageing population and complete protein plays a key role in maintaining muscle function and strength, reducing frailty in the older years, in fact they need more protein per kilogram of body weight than their younger counterparts, other than children. At a time when appetite decreases, nutrient dense foods like meat and milk remain important foods providing essential nutrition for positive aging.

Interestingly, when the calorie (energy) sources have been tracked overtime in the US diet since 1970, whilst calories have increased from 2,057 to 2,674 per day, the calories meat and dairy have remained fairly stable. So where has the extra energy come from? Added fats and oils, as well as flour and cereal products.

The distribution of protein intake across the day was also presented. Typically, in a Westernised diet, there is a smaller amount of protein eaten earlier in the day and most during our evening meal – that is, 10g with cereal based breakfast, 15g with lunch and 65g with dinner. But to maximise the body’s use of the protein from a meal, ideally this should be at least 25g per meal across the day. This may look like smaller portions of carbohydrate and additions of protein foods earlier in the day and smaller protein portions with dinner.

Professor Teresa Davis
Professor Davis.

To finish, the 2025 World Health Organisation global targets to improve maternal, infant and young children nutrition were addressed. These priorities include reducing childhood wasting and stunted growth, low birth weights, and anaemia (low iron) in women of reproductive age. Animal foods play a direct role in these conditions: recovery from malnourishment, growth and development and an efficient source of nutrition that the body laps up.

Professor Davis is extensively published with a longstanding contribution to nutrition research and is a member of the Riddet CoRE Science Advisory Panel and is Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of Nutrition. Her free public lecture ‘Eat Like A Champion’ was part of a series hosted by Riddet in Palmerston North.

The Riddet Institute is a leading New Zealand Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE) dedicated to food science and nutrition research. It has a strategic outlook for innovation working collaboratively across the food sector and is passionate about partnering with New Zealand industries such as meat and milk.

This article appeared in Food NZ magazine (October/November 2018) and is reproduced here with permission.


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