The nutritional value of foods, including meat and meat products, can be defined in a number of different ways, from simply listing the quantities of various nutrients contained in the foods to consideration of biological factors that affect the utilization of these nutrients by the body. Some foods may contain nutrients in forms that the body cannot readily utilize. Thus, nutrient bioavailability, or availability, becomes important.
The nutritional value of meat and meat products is related to the quantity and utilization of nutrients and the potential for these products to either enhance or restrict nutrient utilization by the body. There are five major classes of nutrients: protein, lipid, carbohydrate, vitamins, and minerals.
The nutrient content of meat (muscle foods) is fairly similar among the various mammals, birds, and fish. However, differences in the levels of the various nutrients may result from differences in the carcass composition among species and within species as a result of different fat-to-muscle ratios in the edible portion. As fat percentage increases, nutrient concentration of the muscle portion decreases. Also, to a certain extent, the fat profile/composition and other nutrient content levels may be modified or affected by the animal's diet and/or genetic makeup.
In general, cooking or heat processing has only minimal effects on the nutritional value of muscle foods. In most cases, cooking usually decreases moisture content and concentrates other nutrients, including fat content, especially in lower fat products. This is due to moisture loss. However, in some intensely heated meat products, fat content may also be reduced significantly with negligible loss of other nutrients.
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