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Is it time to cut down on the steak? (Pictures: Getty/Metro.co.uk)
Red meat is once again a big talking point after it was claimed Joe Biden was going to limit consumption to four pounds per year – that’s one burger per month.
The claims were quickly shown to be false, the American president said no such thing, but the debate did reignite the well-worn conversation about how much red meat we should be eating.
How much is healthy for our bodies, but also for the planet? Should we all be trying to cut down? And what exactly are the dangers associated with red meat?
Knowledge is power – particularly when it comes to your diet. It’s always a good idea to be well informed about what you’re putting into your body. So learning more about the meat your eating and how it could impact your health is a good place to start.
First of all, you need to know exactly what counts as red meat – and the other kinds of meat you might find in your diet.
What is red meat?
The definition is surprisingly literal. Red meat is anything which is red when it is raw and remains a dark colour after it is cooked.
According to NHS UK that includes the following:
Poultry such as chicken, turkey, duck and goose are classed as white meat, as are game birds and rabbit.
Processed meat refers to meat which has been preserved, by smoking, curing or adding salt or other preservatives.
This category includes meats such as sausages, bacon, ham, salami, luncheon meat (including that made from chicken and turkey) and other products such as canned meat and meat pate.
Is red meat bad for you?
‘Meat is rich is protein, and a balanced diet needs this to maintain a healthy body creating chemical building blocks called amino acids,’ says registered nutritionist Jessica Bartlett from BikeRumor.
‘Have an injury, or need to recover after a workout, or a long day at the office? Amino acids are there to build and repair your muscles and bones by making hormones and enzymes.’
Jessica says that red meat at its most basic level provides the body with energy – so if you were to cut it out completely and replace it with no other substance, you would suffer a considerable loss of energy.
‘But, as there are many other forms of food which contain protein (like tofu, chickpeas and other beans, eggs), you shouldn’t suffer massive drops in energy,’ she explains.
‘When reducing meat in a diet, there should be no considerable change in your body, as theatrically you’ll be replacing it with other high protein food items.’
Registered nutritionist and author Rhiannon Lambert says that including some good quality fresh red meat and poultry in your diet makes sense because it’s a great source of protein, and minerals and vitamins including iron, zinc, and B vitamins.
‘But red meat like beef, lamb, and pork also contains saturated fat,’ Rhiannon adds, ‘and research has linked a high intake of this to raised cholesterol levels, a risk factor for heart disease.’
Jessica agrees. She says red and processed meat have been found to have a direct link to bowel cancer.
‘Current research shows it is brought on by naturally occurring chemicals found in red meat,’ she says.
‘It’s not as damaging as smoking, but in large amounts it can be extremely harmful, and, as an example, can occur when the chemical called haem is broken down in the body during digestion and N-nitroso chemicals are formed, which have been found to damage the cells that line the bowel.’
How much red meat should you eat per week?
The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) advises adults to eat little or no processed meat and up to 350g–500g cooked weight of red meat weekly, while UK guidelines suggest no more than 70g in total a day.
‘A more recent finding concludes that eating 76g each day – about three slices of ham – could still elevate cancer risk, although overall diet and lifestyle factors are important too,’ says Rhiannon.
‘Meat can be a major source of saturated fat and salt (depending on the type of meat) in the diet. By trying to swap out meat for plant based options (such as, beans, pulses instead of red meat in bolognese) the majority of the time you may be able to increase fibre in the diet.
‘Increasing plant consumption may lead to notable health outcomes such as improved digestive health and reduced risk of heart disease and bowel cancers. Not to mention the environmental impact, reducing animal produce is one of the ways we can help the planet.’
Red meat portion sizes
- Sunday roast (3 thin-cut slices of roast lamb, beef or pork, each about the size of half a slice of sliced bread) – 90g
- Grilled 8oz beef steak – 163g
- Cooked breakfast (2 standard British sausages, around 9cm long, and 2 thin-cut rashers of bacon) – 130g
- Large doner kebab – 130g
- 5oz rump steak – 102g
- Quarter-pound beef burger – 78g
- Thin slice of corned beef – 38g
- One slice of black pudding – 30g
- One slice of ham – 23g
Should you cut down on red meat?
It may feel like the guidance is forever changing when it comes to red meat.
However Rhiannon says that in the world of nutrition, the guidance isn’t actually changing all that often – it is conflicting media headlines that are sometimes causing confusion.
‘It has been recommended for years now that we need to consume less meat and increase our fruit and vegetables,’ Rhiannon tells us.
‘Most of us are still not achieving our five a day, but still manage to over consume the amount of salt, sugar and red meat we actually require to be healthy.
‘My advice would be to start with meat-free Mondays and work your way up from there. Small changes can have big results and the more varied your diet can become, the more fruits, veg and wholegrains we can consume, the healthier our guts and the link between our mental and physical health.’
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