Meat’s role in nutrition


Why is meat important for our diet? Its main purpose is to provide our bodies with high-quality protein which contains all the essential amino acids, but that’s not all. It’s also a great source of other vitamins, such as B12.

Meat, like fish, eggs, milk and milk derivatives, is the body’s main source of high quality protein (that is, highly digestible) which contains all the essential amino acids. The human organism isn’t able to synthesize these proteins and for this reason they must come from the food we eat. Meat also provides trace elements such as zinc, copper, and especially heme iron, which is highly bio-available (meaning the nutrient, iron in this case, is immediately useable and absorbable by our bodies). Lastly, meat is known for having high quantities of bio-available vitamin B12.

The role of meat in our diet is, therefore, very important, especially when, considering food and health, it is often evaluated negatively based on a few observations about the potential effects of its individual components (fats, sodium, nitrites and nitrates).

Raw meat is made up of approximately 70-75% water and 20% protein (with collagen first and foremost), in addition to fats (in variable percentages) mineral salts (1%), vitamins (0.5%) and fats.  The fat in meat can vary in quantity as well as quality.


Today, animal muscle, trimmed of its visible fat, has a relatively low lipid content. Its reduction has been helped along in the past decade by progress made in livestock farming and feed production.


The colour of meat comes from its myoglobin, a protein which contains heme iron (a chemical complex that contains an iron atom) and which helps oxygen to be diffused in muscles. The violet colour of myoglobin turns an intense red when it binds with an oxygen molecule. Red meat is a great source of iron.


For meat, just like all other foods, is very important to consider the recommended portion size and how often it is eaten. Meat and salami, within a varied, balanced diet, should be alternated with other foods rich in protein such as fish (twice a week) and legumes (2 portions), in addition to eggs and dairy. In terms of portion size, in the 2014 revision of the LARN (Italy’s National Recommended Energy and Nutrient Intake Levels), the recommendation is 100 g of fresh meat (equal to 1 cutlet/1 hamburger patty/4-5 pieces of stewed meat/1 sausage/1 chicken or turkey breast/1 small chicken drumstick) and up to 50 g for cured meats (approximately 3-4 slices of prosciutto or 5-6 of salami).

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