In the past 50 years red meat intake has increase has doubled worldwide. Is this a good thing or is our consumption impacting on our health in a negative way? In this post I will provide my comments on the recently aired SBS documentary ‘Should I eat meat?’
The benefits of meat
Red meat provides a range of nutrients required for good health such as protein, iron, B12 and zinc. It provides the most bioavailable iron of any food source. Culturally meat is viewed differently around the world. Some cultures have meat as the centrepiece of a meal and some follow a vegetarian diet. In the Western world meat is viewed as desirable.
The link between meat and health
Large epidemiological studies, which follow groups of people over many years, observe associations between lifestyle patterns, health and cause of death. This type of research shows that eating larger amounts of meat is linked to high risks of heart disease and bowel cancer. Whereas people who eat a vegetarian diet on average live for seven years longer than people who eat meat.
In the SBS documentary, Michael Mosley doubled his red meat intake from 65g to 130g per day for four weeks. He had a health assessment at the start and end of his personal experiment. Over the four weeks he gained 3kg of abdominal fat, his blood pressure increased from the low end of the normal range to the low end of the high range and his blood cholesterol increased from 6.2 to 6.8mmol/l. These were all significant increases to his risk for chronic disease.
Research is yet to determine the cause of the increased risk of eating red meat. From the mid 1950’s until recent times researchers believed that the cause was saturated fats. During the past decade this link has become less certain. The main focus of current research is on the activity of our gut bacteria, microbiota. Gut bacteria convert a component of red meat called L-carnitine to substances that alter the way our cells work. One observation is a build up of cholesterol in our arteries. Eating a high fibre diet with good sources of wholegrains, legumes, green leafy vegetables and fruit reduces some of the negative impact of eating meat.
Is all meat equal?
Processed meat is associated with the most disease risk. This includes any salted, smoked or cured meats such as bacon, ham and sandwich meats. Current research suggest that eating poultry doesn’t have a negative affect on health.
How much meat?
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend adults eat 2 to 3 serves per day from the group of foods that include lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, legumes and lentils, and nuts and seeds. It is recommended that no more than 450g of red meat be eaten per week. The head researchers from the large epidemiological studies recommend red meat no more than once to twice per week, some suggest even less.
Do you need to meat?
Our nutritional needs are all different. However for most people eating red meat is not essential for good health. Epidemiological research shows that it can reduce the quality and length of your life. If you enjoy eating meat I suggest:
- Reducing red meat to no more than 65g twice a week
- Avoiding processed meats
- Having one to two vegetarian meals per week based on lentils and legumes
- Eating a high fibre diet containing wholegrains, vegetables and fruit
Most importantly monitor your health and wellbeing. How do you feel? Have a health review with your doctor too. We are all individuals, so you may need to adjust my suggestions based on your personal assessment and the advice of your healthcare practitioners.