A researcher has said that meat and meat products are viable functional foods as they have many disease-preventing, health-promoting benefits.
The research highlighted that enriching meats with fibre, probiotics and omega-3 fatty acids may help consumers to link meat with a healthy lifestyle.
"Meat contains many important nutrients, including bioactive compounds such as taurine, L-carnitine, creatine, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and endogenous antioxidants," said Dr. Yeonhwa Park, Secretary for Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Food Chemistry Division.
Earlier studies have shown that CLA may reduce cancer incidence, but this has not yet been proven in human studies.
Meat also contains unique endogenous antioxidants including carosine, anserine and others, along with iron and zinc, nutrients often lacking in the average diet.
"Meat also contains a significant source of vitamin B-12," said Park.
Frederic Leroy, Ph.D., professor in nutrition, meat technology and quantitative and predictive microbiology at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, said that meat and meat products could be made more functional with some modifications.
"Modification of fatty acid and cholesterol levels in meat may be influenced by selection of breeds and genetic lines, changes in animal feeding practices and additional ingredients added during meat processing," said Leroy.
Adding probiotics to fermented meat products (i.e. sausage) may lead to health benefits, although this application is still marginal.
"Several disadvantages exist when using fermented meats as a probiotic carrier. For one, fermented meats are not generally considered 'health food' by consumers. Plus technical issues exist. It requires careful selection of probiotic strains since, for example, they would need to have a resistance to bile salts," said Leroy.
Fibre-enriched meat products may also offer health advantages, although they can elicit a grainy texture and have a restrictive digestive tolerance.
Omega-3 enriched meats (currently marketed in Canada) may also soon compete with salmon and other traditional omega-3 rich fish.
The researchers said that marketing meat and meat products as functional foods requires focusing on benefits of the nutrients, particularly meat's high protein content.