NEW review reveals health benefits of red meat and challenges myths - “no evidence” that eating lean red meat in moderation has negative health effects
A new review of published evidence about red meat and its links to health shows that a moderate intake of lean red meat makes a significant positive contribution to both micronutrient and macronutrient intakes without risking any negative health effects. The review concludes that the relationship between red meat and health is a positive one.
The new research, published in the March issue of the British Nutrition Foundation’s (BNF) Nutrition Bulletin* (1),also found that most people in the UK population eat moderate amounts of red meat. The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition is expected to make a recommendation this week that those consuming large amounts of red meat (more than 70g per day) should consider a reduction (2). However, official consumption figures show that for most people, no action is required as intakes are below this level. There has been a decrease in the consumption of red meat within the last 30 years and consumption in the UK is less than many other European countries including Spain, Italy, France, Sweden and the Netherlands (3).
Dr Carrie Ruxton, member of the Meat Advisory Panel (MAP), a new, independent panel providing objective information about the role of meat in our diet, says: “This review highlights that eating red meat in moderation is an important part of a healthy balanced diet. It also lays to rest many of the misconceptions about meat and health. Lean red meat is a good source of many vital nutrients and, thanks to modern farming methods, is lower than ever in saturated fat and calories, making it suitable for all the family. Given that current intakes, on average, are well within health targets, there is no reason to eat less red meat if you enjoy it.”
Some of the health benefits
Red meat contains an array of vitamins and minerals, some in substantial amounts; all of which are required for general health and wellbeing.
|Iron||Iron is an important part of a healthy diet as it is an essential requirement for the formation of red blood cells, which helps to transport oxygen around the body. In the UK almost 50 per cent of women of child bearing age have iron intakes below the Lower Reference Nutrient Intake (LRNI) (4). Red meat contributes approximately 17 per cent of total dietary iron intake in the UK and contains the more readily absorbed haem form of iron (5).|
Zinc is essential for growth and helps with the healing of wounds. In the average UK diet, zinc is primarily derived from meat and meat products. Low intakes of zinc are a concern for some population groups in the UK, including young girls, infants and children. Red meat is a rich source of readily absorbed zinc. A diet containing no red meat can be even more critical for zinc than for iron as meat makes a greater contribution to total zinc intakes (6).
Red meat contains a number of B vitamins. It is a rich source of vitamin B12, needed for the production of blood cells and the health of nerves. Vitamin B12 occurs only in foods of animal or microbiological origin so people who avoid eating animal products may have inadequate intakes. Beef, lamb and pork are also rich sources of vitamin B3 (niacin), which is involved in the release of food energy. Vitamin B6 is essential for healthy skin, muscles and blood cells. In the UK, meat and meat products are key contributors to vitamin B6, supplying 21% of average intakes (7).
There are few dietary sources of vitamin D (8). Most people in the UK obtain the majority of their vitamin D by exposure of skin to sunlight (9). Low vitamin D levels are now common in the UK and many do not obtain enough vitamin D through sunlight exposure. Red meat is an important dietary source of easily utilised vitamin D. Vegetarians and vegans have been found to have low plasma concentrations of vitamin D (10).
|Protein||Protein is essential for the growth, maintenance and repair of the body, and can also provide energy. Protein is made of amino acids, some of which can be synthesised in the body and others that are essential and must be consumed in the diet. Red meat and other animal foods are important sources of essential amino acids for adults and children.|
Red meat contains useful amounts of selenium, although the concentration depends on the diet of the livestock and the soil in which the animal feed was grown. Selenium acts as an antioxidant and is also necessary for the use of iodine in thyroid hormone production and for immune system function and reproduction. The contribution of meat and meat products to selenium intakes in the UK is thought to be in excess of 32% (11).
|Other minerals||Meat and meat products contain useful amounts of magnesium, copper, cobalt, phosphorus, chromium and nickel.|
The myths on red meat - a review of the evidence:
We eat too much red meat
There has been a decrease in the amount of red meat eaten in the UK during the last few decades (12). On average, men are eating 96g of red meat a day and women are eating 57g. Average daily intake of red and processed meat is 76g** (13). This is well below the level where experts recommend reducing consumption - over 140g per day (14). People can eat red meat at least five or six times a week without any cause for concern.
Red meat increases risk of cancer
Most people in the UK eat moderate amounts of red meat and the review concludes that there is no evidence of a link to cancer at moderate levels. For high levels of consumption, some studies appear to show an increased risk while others do not. The evidence of a link between cancer and high intakes of red meat is inconclusive. Experts agree that any possible links may be more likely to do with high fat diets and cooking methods (over-cooking or charring meat) than the meat itself. The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition is expected to make a recommendation this week that those consuming large amounts of red meat (more than 70g per day) should consider a reduction (2).
Red meat increases risk of cardivascular disease (CVD)
There is no conclusive link between consumption of red meat and cardiovascular disease. Unprocessed lean red meat has a low saturated fatty acid and sodium content, and studies have shown favourable effects of lean red meat on CVD risk factors, including blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
Meat contains a range of fatty acids, including the essential omega-6 (n-6) and omega-3 (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) (linoleic and α-linolenic acids), mononsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and saturated fatty acids (SFAs). One of the main SFAs present in red meat is stearic acid, which has no effect on blood cholesterol levels and other CVD risk factors (15). N-3 PUFAs and MUFAs, along with B vitamins and selenium, may actually offer cardio-protective benefits.
Processed meat increases risk of type 2 diabetes
Research has suggested that a high consumption of processed meat may increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in overweight people, but further research is needed to determine the level of intake associated with a higher risk and whether it is the actual meat in these products, or other ingredients which are used, that could be the link.
Meat-eaters have a higher Body Mass Index (BMI)
Some studies have shown meat-eaters to have a higher BMI compared to vegetarians but the review states that it is impossible to attribute this to any individual lifestyle or dietary factor because vegetarians tend to be more health-conscious, leading an overall healthier lifestyle, including more physical activity and more health-conscious dietary choices. However the study does conclude that lean red meat may be a useful component of weight loss diets due to the satiating effect of its high protein content.
Notes to editors
*This new BNF Nutrition Bulletin Review provides an update from the previous "Red meat in the diet" review, this new research used evidence from epidemiological and cohort studies to investigate associations between meat intake and health outcomes. (Nutrition Bulletin 2005, Williamson CS, Foster RK et al). The British Pig Executive (BPEX), the English Beef and Lamb Executive (EBLEX) divisions of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) and HCC (Meat Promotion Wales) financially supported the time spent on the preparation of this review. However, the views expressed in this paper are those of the authors alone, and AHDB has not been involved in writing or shaping any of the contents.
**The average daily intake of red meat among men in the UK is 96 g and 57 g for women.
(1) Wyness L, Weichselbaum E, O’Connor A, Williams EB, Benelam B, Riley H, Stanner S. Red Meat in the Diet: An Update. British Nutrition Foundation Nutrition Bulletin. March 2011.
(2) SACN (Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition). (2009). “Draft SACN Report on Iron and Health.” Retrieved 1st November 2010.
(3) Linseisen, J., E. Kesse, et al. (2002). “Meat consumption in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) cohorts; results from 24-our dietary recalls.” Public Health Nutrition 5: 1243-1258
(4) Henderson L, Gregory J, et al. (2003). The National Diet and Nutrition Survey: Adults Aged 19-64 Years. Volume 2 Energy, protein, carbohydrate, fat and alcohol intake. London, The Stationery Office.
(5) Henderson L, Gregory J, et al. (2003). The National Diet and Nutrition Survey: Adults Aged 19-64 Years. Volume 3 Vitamin and mineral intake and urinary analytes. London, The Stationery Office.
(6) SACN (Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition). (2009). “Draft SACN Report on Iron and Health.” Retrieved 1st November 2010.
(7) Henderson L, Gregory J, et al. (2003). The National Diet and Nutrition Survey: Adults Aged 19-64 Years. Volume 2 Energy, protein, carbohydrate, fat and alcohol intake. London, The Stationery Office.
(8) SACN (Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition). (2007). “Update on vitamin D: Position Statement by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition.” Retrieved July, 2010.
(10) Public Health Nutrition: 14(2), 340–346 doi:10.1017/S1368980010002454. Plasma concentrations of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in meat eaters, fish eaters, vegetarians and vegans: results from the EPIC–Oxford study Francesca L Crowe*, Marinka Steur, Naomi E Allen, Paul N Appleby, Ruth C Travis and Timothy J Key. Cancer Epidemiology Unit, Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine, University of Oxford, Richard Doll Building, Roosevelt Drive, Oxford OX3 7LF, UK. Submitted 7 April 2010: Accepted 16 July 2010: First published online 21 September 2010
(11) MAFF Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food 1997. 1997 total diet study – aluminium, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, selenium, tin and zinc. Food Surveillance Information Sheet no. 191.
(12) Defra (Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs) (2010). Family food 2008. A report on the 2008 Family Food Module of the Living Costs and Food Survey
(13) Bates B, Lennox A & Swan G (2010) National Diet and Nutrition Survey. Headline Results from Year 1 of the Rolling Programme (2008/09). Food Standards Agency/Department of Health: London.
(14) SACN (Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition). (2010). “Iron Report, Draft February 2010.”
(15) Daley CA, Abbott A, et al. (2010). “A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef.” Nutrition Journal 9 (10).