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The role of animal nutrition in improving the nutritive value of animal-derived foods in relation to chronic disease

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 March 2007

D. I. Givens
Nutritional Sciences Research Unit, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, University of Reading, Reading, R6 6AR, UK
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Foods derived from animals are an important source of nutrients in the diet; for example, milk and meat together provide about 60 and 55% of the dietary intake of Ca and protein respectively in the UK. However, certain aspects of some animal-derived foods, particularly their fat and saturated fatty acid (SFA) contents, have led to concerns that these foods substantially contribute to the risk of CVD, the metabolic syndrome and other chronic diseases. In most parts of Europe dairy products are the greatest single dietary source of SFA. The fatty acid composition of various animal-derived foods is, however, not constant and can, in many cases, be enhanced by animal nutrition. In particular, milk fat with reduced concentrations of the C12–16 SFA and an increased concentration of 18:1 MUFA is achievable, although enrichment with very-long-chain n-3 PUFA is much less efficient. However, there is now evidence that some animal-derived foods (notably milk products) contain compounds that may actively promote long-term health, and research is urgently required to fully characterise the benefits associated with the consumption of these compounds and to understand how the levels in natural foods can be enhanced. It is also vital that the beneficial effects are not inadvertently destroyed in the process of reducing the concentrations of SFA. In the future the role of animal nutrition in creating foods closer to the optimum composition for long-term human health is likely to become increasingly important, but production of such foods on a scale that will substantially affect national diets will require political and financial incentives and great changes in the animal production industry.

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