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The truth about eating red meat

Rachael Anne Hill
22 March 2012

Unless you've been on the planet zarg lately, you'll no doubt be aware of all the recent media frenzy regarding red meat.   It stems from the findings of two large US health and lifestyle investigations which looked at data from over 121,000 men and women over a period of more than 20 years.

The conclusion, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, was that eating an extra daily serving of unprocessed red meat, equivalent to a helping of beef, lamb or pork about the size of the palm of your hand, raises your mortality rate by 13%, while a serving of processed meat such as bacon, hot dogs or salami increased it by a whopping 20%.  Conversely, replacing red meat with fish, poultry, or plant-based protein foods will help you to live longer reducing your mortality rate by 20%.

So should we all be giving up red meat?

Whilst some might argue 'we've all gotta go sometime', the researchers of this study suggest the answer might be 'yes' as they concluded that cutting red meat out of the diet entirely led to significant health benefits. In fact, they stated that just halving the red meat consumption of the study participants could have prevented almost 10% of male death and 8% of female deaths.

[Related feature: Healthy red meat recipes]
[Related feature: 7 shocking health statistics]

However, it's important to be aware of the contribution red meat can offer to a healthy diet too. For example, red meat and meat products are excellent sources of essential nutrients.  They provide iron - needed for energy, zinc - needed for a healthy immune system, selenium — a powerful immune strengthening antioxidant, B vitamins - vital for a healthy nervous system and vitamin D which has numerous functions including helping to maintain strong bones and prevent dementia.

In the UK, red meat contributes 32% of the total zinc intake for men and 27% for women. It also provides approximately 17% of total dietary iron intake in the UK.  Of course, red meat is a great source of tissue and bone building protein and is great at helping us to feel fuller for longer and prevent over eating which can cause obesity.

In light of all these benefits my advice would be, if you like eating red meat carry on but limit it to no more than four 2 - 3oz servings a week, go for the leaner cuts and use healthier cooking methods such as grilling. However, if you eat processed meats like bacon, ham, sausages or burgers think about cutting back as much as possible by substituting with other healthier protein sources such as poultry, fish, nuts, beans or lentils which all significantly decrease mortality risk.  Oh, and don't forget to pile on the veggies too!

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