The nutritional value of meat is generally derived from its high protein content. The fats found in meats can also be a valuable source of fuel for the body. Meat typically contains important minerals, including iron, phosphorous, zinc, and the complete range of B vitamins, some of which — like vitamin B12 — can usually only be found in foods derived from animals.
Meat usually contains high levels of complete protein, a nutrient necessary for a healthy body. The proteins in meat are normally easy for most people to digest. The body typically uses this nutrient to perform cellular repairs and generate new tissue. Protein is also considered crucial to the regulation of immune function and electrolyte balance.
Fat is also found in meat, and while too much fat can be bad for health, some is needed to keep the body working correctly. The human body generally burns fat for energy. Protein can also be used for energy, but most experts agree that fat and carbohydrates should supply the bulk of the body's energy needs.
Iron is necessary for helping oxygen molecules bind to red blood cells, and meat is considered an excellent source of this mineral. The iron found in meats is among the most easily absorbed and used of any dietary sources. Vegetable sources of this mineral may be more difficult for the body to use.
Phosphorous and zinc also form part of the nutritional value of meat. Along with dairy products and fish, meat is considered a good source of dietary phosphorous, which helps to support bone health. Zinc, which helps regulate metabolism and enzyme function, can also be found in many meats.
B vitamins are some of the most crucial nutrients found in meat, since some of them can't usually be found in other foods. These vitamins help to support metabolic function, cognitive function, skin health, the production of red blood cells and digestion. Vitamin B12 in particular can typically only be found in meat and other animal-derived food products.
Though meat can form part of a healthy diet, many types contain high levels of fat and cholesterol and should not be eaten excessively. Lean meats are generally considered most nutritious. Consumers may be able to enjoy the maximum nutritional value of meat, with the lowest risk, by choosing lean meats and preparing them in a way that does not increase their fat and cholesterol levels.