Throughout the ages the quest for food and drink has influenced humanity’s economic, social and political development, and played a role in the organization of society and history. Nutrition (or what we choose to consume) influences the health of human beings and therefore their quality of life. Animal source foods are often the dietary component that evokes the widest array of complex scientific, economic, environmental and political issues. It is viewed as the most expensive component of any diet, yet can make significant contributions to human health through providing high quantities of essential nutrients. In addition to quantity, the high quality of the nutrients in animal source foods is important as high-quality nutrients are more readily absorbed into the human body than lower-quality nutrients from other food and non-food sources. As South Africans increasingly suffer the consequences of inappropriate diets (over- and under- nutrition), the role of animal source foods as part of a healthy diet requires continuous investment in research and extrapolation of information towards appropriate guidelines and recommendations. Although it is often suggested that the intake of animal source foods should be limited because of possible linkages between animal product consumption and health, scientific evidence increasingly indicates the beneficial role that animal source foods can play in preventing and combating obesity and certain non-communicable diseases related to over-nutrition. This article aims to describe the nutritional role of animal source foods as part of a healthy South African diet and presents a review of recent findings related to their nutrient contribution, as well as evidence relating to common health concerns.