Over consumption of meat is generally seen as bad for health, and many meat products are often blasted as ‘unhealthy’. But the recent swing towards more natural, ‘farm assured’ meat has begun to slowly change perceptions – And this recent shift towards healthier meats could be a good thing for the functional foods industry.
Enriching poultry and meat with omega-3 fatty acids, for example, is a scientific possibility, but the biggest problem in the future development of this area is regulatory, said Professor Eric Decker from the University of Massachusetts.
Talking to NutraIngredients, Prof Decker said: “It’s in the definitions of what meat is.”
“There are a lot of opportunities to really improve things for certain meat products, but the current regulatory views are really preventing this,” he added
In many countries – including the U.S. – nutrient label claims for nutrients added to or endogenous in meat products are not currently allowed.
“If things are added to a product then it currently cannot be called meat anymore,” said Decker, adding that the policy was “a major deterrent” to the production of healthier meat products.
Regulatory hurdles aside, research has suggested that many consumers find it hard to eat their officially recommended portions of fruit and vegetables a day, and Prof Decker’s recent review claimed that many healthcare challenges “could be proactively improved by producing a healthier food supply as a preventive health care strategy.”
“Meats have great potential for delivering important nutrients such as fatty acids, minerals, dietary fiber, antioxidants and bioactive peptides into the diet.
“However, to produce successful products with these ingredients, technologies must be developed to increase their stability and decrease their flavor impact,” stated Prof Decker.
However, Professor Ian Givens from the University of Reading warned: “It’s not just about fortifying these foods, but assessing the risks associated with them currently and trying – where possible – to reduce them.”
Prof. Givens led part of the E.U funded Lipgene project, investigating fats in the food chain. Speaking to NutraIngredients-USA, he said: “The main focus was to reduce saturated fats in foods, and try to replace them with healthier mono-unsaturated fats,
“In the project we showed that by enriching poultry and meat, we could make a big inroad into omega-3 deficits.”
Emily Woon of Euromonitor International said the concept of functional meat products is “a very interesting subject area” that could “precipitate a shift away from the industry focus on mass production solely geared towards high volumes towards higher quality, which no longer ignores the issue of nutritional content.”
“Enhanced nutritional value positioning does not just have potential for fruit and vegetables, but can just as well be applied to animal products. High omega-3 eggs, laid by chickens fed on omega-3-rich linseed…are already highly successful example of this,” stated a Euromonitor report.
Professor Givens said experiences from the Lipgene project had also suggested that if people were convinced a product would be beneficial, then it is much easier to gain acceptance, “and they are more likely to be convinced into using the products.”
“If you look back, the history of imposing long term dietary changes have never worked well across large populations,” stated Givens.
“The big attraction [of functional meats] is that the methods wouldn’t involve changing major dietary factors, just some of the components that make up existing diets,” he added.
According to Decker, the easiest products to enrich with functional ingredients are ground meats, “because they are something that’s very versatile.”
He added that the addition of some functional ingredients would not be difficult:
“Could you put a serving of fruit into a meat product? Yes, very easily. And fiber could also be easily added to ground meat products.”
But Decker added thatthe key with all functional foods “is that the new product has to taste, look and cost the same as the original”
“People are not going to stop eating meat, so it’s important to improve the meat products they want” heconcluded..
“The issue with functional foods is that certain products don’t do much, and have not delivered on their promises. And this could be doing a disservice to their wider acceptance in the population,” said Prof Givens
Decker added that “a lot of responsibility has to be taken” by manufacturers producing foods where there is “no evidence at all” to show their efficacy.
He added that there were “a lot of bad examples” of such products, and warned that in the future, functional foods – especially meat products – needed “strong evidence of efficacy, not following newspaper trends for the latest fashionable ingredient.”
Correction Notice: This article has been changed from the original version because we mistakenly attributed market data to Datamonitor. The data was from Euromonitor International. Our apologies.