Animal foods possess some critical compounds that the body needs to optimally thrive in health. Not only that, many of the vitamins offered in animal foods are in superior forms compared to plant foods because of their bioavailability. The bioavailability and digestibility of these vitamins and minerals are arguably the most important part of optimizing the diet. For example, vitamin A has two forms, beta-carotene (plant form) and retinol (animal form). The body can only use retinol, vitamin A’s true form. The bioavailability of beta-carotene is much lower because the body has to process it into the true form which results in a poor absorption. Let’s examine just 6 essential nutrients that can only be obtained from animal foods
1. Heme Iron – Many vitamins and minerals such as iron, magnesium, vitamin A, D, and K, all have different forms that are more or less bioavailable than the counterpart. As for iron, the two main forms are non-heme and heme. Non-heme is found in plant foods and Heme iron is found in animal foods. Heme iron is the form that the body can better absorb, is more bioavailable, and is the preferred form for the body. Non-heme iron has a lower absorption rate and is more difficult for the body to convert to the ready form of heme iron. In fact, studies have shown that non-heme iron’s average absorption rate is between 2-20%. As for heme iron the absorption rate is anywhere between 15-35%. The absorption percentage is also greatly dependent on other factors in the diet such as vitamin C consumption (Vit. C helps iron absorption) but also the presence of anti nutrients such as oxalates and phytic acid found in many plant foods.
2. Creatine – This compound is found most abundant in animal protein such as chicken, steak, pork, and turkey. Creatine is an essential compound that supports cognitive function, muscle strength, recovery, and injury prevention!
3. Vitamin D3 cholecalciferol – This fat soluble vitamin can only be obtained through animal foods and the sun. D3 plays a role in immune health, bone health, brain, and muscle health.
4. Carnosine – Carnosine is a compound found in animal protein that has been shown to increase cognitive function, improve immune health, decrease aging, and improve muscle function
5. Vitamin B-12 – This vitamin plays a critical role in metabolic function, energy levels, the nervous system, and brain function. When this vitamin is lacking, weakness, exhaustion, and impaired brain function are likely to creep in.
6. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – This essential fatty acid plays arguably one of the most important roles in brain function, development, as well as regulating inflammation. Today the American diet is full of pro-inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids from nuts, seeds, and plant oils. While there are some plant sources of omega 3 fatty acids they are in the form of ALA (Alpha linoliec Acid) a much less absorbable form as compared to DHA and EPA found exclusively in animal foods.