Once again, there has recently been a bit of a buzz around the topic of red meat and health. For years it has been a well known fact that eating high amounts of red meat has been associated with an increased risk of several chronic diseases, particularly various types of cancer and heart disease.
So what is all the hype about now?
A study published earlier this month looking at the link between red meat consumption and mortality, found that eating a lot of unprocessed and processed red meats was associated with higher mortality risk. Unprocessed red meat included pork, beef or lamb and processed meats included foods that had been preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding preservatives such as bacon, hot dogs, sausages, ham, salami and pâtés. The study found that consuming processed meats, especially bacon and hot dogs, was linked to a higher mortality risk than unprocessed meats. Participants who had a higher red meat intake tended to consume more calories overall per day, and had lower intakes of whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
Red meats, especially fatty cuts, are high in the “bad” fat known as saturated fat. When ingested, saturated fat turns into cholesterol in our bodies, which can then stick to the walls of our arteries. If we have high levels of cholesterol in our blood, it may continue to pile up in our arteries and can eventually block the artery and limit blood flow, leading to a heart attack or stroke.
Does this mean we have to stop eating red meat?
Absolutely not! Red meat is still a good source of protein and important vitamins and minerals like iron and zinc. It is important however not to eat more than 500g (cooked weight) of red meat per week, around 70g per day, choosing leaner cuts whenever possible. The study showed that people who ate more than this had a greater mortality risk and that by cutting down on the amount of red meat consumed would significantly reduce this risk. This amount may not sound like a lot to some people, but this is only talking about RED MEAT and does not include fish and poultry. The problem today is that people are eating larger portions and fattier cuts of meat. Although lean cuts of meat are often more expensive and may not be as juicy or flavourful as fatty meats, the health benefits of choosing leaner cuts over fatty ones are very clear.
What does 500g of red meat look like? (Taken from www.nhs.uk)
• Sunday Roast – 3 thin cut slices of roast beef, lamb or pork (90g)
• 1 hot dog (45g)
• Grilled 8 oz steak (163g)
• Cooked breakfast – two sausages and two bacon rashers (130g)
• A Big Mac (70g)
Total: 498 grams
Although this may not look like a lot, we need to remember that portion sizes have increased drastically over the years and most of the time we are eating more than we need to. The standard portion size for meat is 85g (3 ounces), but rarely do you get this as a portion, especially when eating out. If you eat a lot of red meat, reducing the amount you eat can help you reduce the risk of developing heart disease or certain types of cancer. Making other healthy lifestyle choices such as staying physically active and maintaining a healthy weight can also help reduce your risk. Eating smaller portions of red meat, in particular processed ones, and swapping them for leaner meats is a good place to start.
Red meat can be consumed in moderation as part of a healthy, balanced diet, but remember that there are other good sources of protein out there like fish, poultry, eggs, tofu, and beans.