Meat-free diets are popular with many health-conscious diners and those with ethical concerns about consuming animal products, but eating meat can be important in your diet. Meat has many nutritional, disease-prevention and even weight-loss properties, according to Elisa Zied, a registered dietitian in New York City and the author of "Nutrition at Your Fingertips."
Meat is an excellent source of complete protein, containing all the amino acids your body needs to develop and maintain muscles. Vegetarian foods don’t contain complete proteins, so they aren’t as good at building and maintaining strong muscles. One study found children who consumed two spoonfuls of meat daily in addition to their regular diet had an 80-percent increase in upper-arm muscle compared to other children in the two-year study, according to an article on BioEd Online, the website of the Baylor College of Medicine.
Meat is one of the best sources of iron in the American diet, Zied says. If you don’t get enough of this mineral from foods or supplements, you are at risk for anemia and low energy. Iron boosts your energy because it's needed to make red blood cells, which carry oxygen from your lungs to other parts of your the body, including the brain.
One serving of beef gives you about 20 percent of your daily recommended intake of iron, Zied reports. Red meat contains heme iron, which is the form of iron most easily absorbed by the body, but pork, lamb and chicken are also good sources of iron as are organ meats.
Meat is a top-notch source of zinc. This mineral helps the immune system function properly and is necessary for some biochemical reactions. During the winter, zinc can be important for helping ease suffering from colds and the flu, Zied says. While other foods, especially oysters, also contain zinc, meat is the most efficient food source, Zied says.
Vitamin B12, another nutrient found in beef, helps prevent heart disease and may play a role in lowering the risk of breast cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and depression, according to Oregon State University’s Linus Pauling Institute.
Although red meat can be a source of unhealthy fat and cholesterol, lean meat aids weight loss by making you feel fuller longer after a meal. In a 2008 study published in the “Journal of the American College of Nutrition,” small portions of roast beef and boiled beef helped produce feelings of satiety in a group of 20 normal-weight adults.
To reduce the fat and cholesterol in meat, the MayoClinic.com recommends choosing lean cuts, trimming any visible fat and using low-fat cooking methods.