Title: The Role of Meat in the Diet.

Key words: energy, protein, saturated fat, polyunsaturated fats, vitamins, minerals, bioavailability

Date: July 2000

Category: 4. Food Data


Author: Dr van Rhijn

The Role of Meat in the Diet.



Meat has always been an important part of the human diet, as a source of both micro and macro nutrients. It is estimated that total meat purchases still represent about 28% of household food expenditure. However, large-scale production at low prices and raised public awareness regarding health has resulted in a shift towards the consumption of lean meat and poultry.

Nutritional contribution of meat

The National Food Survey (MAFF 1986) estimated that meat provides the following nutrients in the average UK diet:

This is determined by the amount of fat on the meat. Liver, kidney and poultry in general contain less energy than carcass meat.

Lean meat contains substantial amounts of high biological value protein, and the balance of amino acids is very close to the ideal reference requirements.

Meat provides 23% saturated & 16% polyunsaturated fat intake. Liver lipids are less saturated due to the phospholipids in their cell membranes.

Meat is rich in B-vitamins and provides, for example, B12 55%, B6 - 23% and B1 - 14%. Liver is exceptionally rich in vitamin A and folate.

Iron 24%, zinc 23%, copper 29% and selenium 28% as well as other trace elements.

Effects of cooking

Some water-soluble minerals and vitamins are lost to the juices and cooking water. Between 20-70% of all B-vitamins are destroyed, depending on the cooking method. Vitamin A is relatively stable to heat. Cooking does not affect the highly bioavailable minerals, but loss does occur in juices and cooking water.


One of the important characteristics of meat is the high bioavailability of the inorganic nutrients. This is a factor vegetarians have to consider in selecting a well balanced diet. In contrast, caution is advised in consuming high amounts of liver during pregnancy due to the potential toxicity and teratogenic effect of Vit A.