Expanding horizons

  • Health
  • Sunday, 19 Jan 2003

LATELY, meat has gotten quite a bad rep. The mad cow disease; the bird flu; the hand, foot and mouth disease ? and to top things up, the endless talk of how processed meat has little or no nutritional value.  

Yet again, vegetarians score the points.  

Some even go so far as to say that eating meat is as good as eating “waste”, the reason being that animals, just before they are slaughtered, produce large amounts of adrenalin. This adrenalin stays in the animals’ body after they are killed and the consumption of it is said to be bad. 

Despite the apparent defeat for the upholders of “meat” in any health debate, there’s always that trump card to turn the tide around. 

After all, if there are functional foods such as chicken and beef essence, meat can’t be all that bad. And these essences have come a long way.  

Many have sworn by them for one reason or the other, and at one time or the other. Not long ago, though, the benefits of these essences, which we had merely taken for granted as some sort of “jump-start” tonic, have been proven to have many healing properties. 

Take chicken essence for example. It has been proven to be good for the heart, to reduce hypertension and to lower blood-sugar level. Studies in Japan have also shown chicken essence to minimise the scar on the heart after a heart operation. And all these benefits are due to certain peptides inherent in a chicken.  

Then, there’s also the “meat factor” to add on to the list of efficacies. 

What, one might ask, is this meat factor? It refers to a certain peptide (or meat proteins) that aids the absorption of minerals, particularly iron.  

Dr Hiroyuki Ono, vice president of R&D Cerebos Pacific Ltd, Lam Oin Woon, CEO of Cerebos Pacific Ltd South Asia and Lim Bing Tik, GM of Cerebos Malaysia.

Brands, in view of the benefits of chicken essence as a catalyst that enhances the absorption of certain minerals, has recently launched a series of new supplements. The tonic is now combined with certain herbs and minerals in the form of tablets. Yes, it’s that ol two and three in one combo.  

Now, there’re chicken essence with Echinacea, and, Grape Seed Extract, and even Iron + Vitamin B Complex. 

One important thing to be emphasised from this combination of functional foods is the strong link between meat and the absorption of iron. And as iron-deficiency anaemia is the most common nutritional deficiency disorder, affecting approximately 600 million people worldwide, the “meat-factor” deserves a closer look.  

This deficiency is primarily due to the low absorption rate of iron in a person’s body. Only a fraction of iron ingested in a person’s diet is actually absorbed by the intestine. Therefore strategies aimed at increasing iron absorption would be one way of preventing anaemia ? to increase the bioavailability of iron with absorption enhancers.  

But before going into these strategies, one needs to take a closer look at the nature of iron found in foodstuff. 

Iron, in food, is found in two forms – heme and non-heme. Iron that occurs as part of haemoglobin molecules is called heme iron. It is found only in muscle foods (MPF) and accounts for 20-70% of the iron in these foods.  

The remaining iron in muscle foods, and all of the iron in other types of food, is non-heme iron.  

The distinction between these two types of iron is important because each is absorbed in different ways and amounts. Most of an adult’s dietary source of iron is non-heme. However, in contrast to heme iron, non-heme iron is less well absorbed and is influenced more by dietary factors.  

Two things have been found to increase the absorption of iron. They are muscle foods and vitamin C. If muscle foods are eaten in the same meal as non-heme iron sources, absorption of non-heme iron increases by two to fourfold.  

The exact nature of the enhancing factor in meat has not been identified but is said to involve low molecular weight peptides that are released during digestion. Orange juice (due to its high content of Vitamin C) consumed during a meal, increases absorption as well. 

According to Dr Hiroyuki Ono, vice president and researcher at Cerebos Pacific Ltd, different types of peptides found in different types of meat influence the absorption of different minerals.  

“Some peptides have been shown to help the absorption of calcium. Our research has shown that chicken essence contains certain peptides that increase the absorption of iron into the intestines. Thus, at Cerebos, essence of chicken has been combined with iron into a pill-form supplement to aid absorption,” says Dr Ono. 

And beef has also been said to contain a large amount of these peptides that aid absorption of iron.  

But that’s not all that has been said on the benefits of peptides. It has been proven that the peptides found in essence of chicken increases one’s metabolic rate and is, thus, good for the heart. 

At present, studies are still being made to determine the other benefits of peptides found in other types of meat – whether these peptides would aid the absorption of other minerals, apart from iron and calcium, as well.  

And just as there are absorption enhancers, there are also certain types of food that would inhibit iron absorption. It has been said that tea and coffee, grains, bran and soy products as well as spinach, rhubarb and chocolate decreases the absorption of non-heme iron. 

Thus, knowing a little of how certain minerals are better consumed with certain types of food can help us better manage our diet. 

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