Top US nutrition scientists talk beef consumption myths, plant-based, food waste: GRSB conference in Denver

It’s a myth that beef is over-consumed in high-income countries, plant-based burgers are not nutritionally interchangeable with the real thing and red meat is underselling itself by taking on the label ‘protein’.

These were among the insights from a group of top nutrition scientists in the United States who this week met for a panel discussion on one of the most perplexing phenomena of the modern-day sustainability conversion: the imbalance of a world which has both massive malnutrition problems and huge amounts of food wastage.

The session was part of the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef conference, held in Denver, Colorado, in the US.

Ty Beal, from the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition in Arizona, said the simple fact was too many people worldwide were malnourished.

Research shows more than 500 million women and adolescent girls have anemia; one-in-two preschool children and two-in-three women have at least one micronutrient deficiency worldwide, he said.

Nine-in-ten women in several countries in southern Asia and sub-saharan Africa have at least one micronutrient deficiency.

While that number is incredible, possibly more surprising to many of the 250 international delegates at the conference was revelations from recent research which brings to light the fact these deficiencies are also prevalent in the US, the United Kingdom and other high-income countries.

Dr Beal presented findings from studies that show in the UK, one-in-two women have at least one micronutrient deficiency and in the UK and US one-in-five women are iron deficient.

“These numbers are not small and addressing the situation means looking to foods which are the best sources of the nutrients most lacking – iron, zinc, folate, calcium and vitamins B12 and A,” he said.

Meat and other animal sourced foods were top sources of commonly lacking nutrients, he said.

However, it was not just the density in those nutrients of animal-sourced foods that needed to be considered, but the bioavailability.

In red meat, the bioavailability ratio of omega 3 fatty acids is 10:1 and for vitamin A it is 12:1, Dr Beal reported.

“For iron, comparing beef to pulses you’ll see twice the bioavailability,” he said. “For zinc, it is 70pc more.”

Meat also contains higher quality protein than most plant foods. The measurement of this is the digestible indispensable amino acid score, and in beef and pork it is higher than other foods – a score of 119 compared to almonds which scores just 40, or chickpeas at 83.

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