Red meat: fact or fiction? 

Myth: Meat is high in fat, especially saturates

Fact: The fat content of lean red meat has fallen by one third on average over the last 20 years, with the average fat content of lean lamb now 8%, lean beef 5% and lean pork 4%.

Red meat actually contains more heart healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, than saturates.

Choosing lean cuts of meat and trimming off any visible fat helps to reduce the saturated fat content further.

Meat also contains small amounts of omega-3 fats, which help to keep the heart healthy, especially in people who’ve already had a heart attack.

Myth: Meat is fattening

Fact: Many different factors contribute to obesity such as excessive calorie intakes and lack of exercise. It’s impossible to pick
out just one aspect of someone’s diet – such as eating red meat – and prove that it’s caused obesity. Furthermore, meat may actually help in the fight against obesity thanks to its protein content as higher protein intakes can improve the feeling of fullness at the end of a meal and so can help to prevent snacking later in the day.

Ultimately, this helps to reduce calorie intakes, which in turn may help with weight loss.


Myth: Meat is onlyimportant for iron

Fact: Red meat is indeed an important source of iron, which is needed for healthy blood and to prevent anaemia. This is particularly important for women, as currently a quarter of females aged 19 to 64 years in the UK have iron intakes below the minimum amount needed to stay healthy.

But meat isn’t just a good source of iron. Meat and meat products contain many other nutrients that are important for good health, including protein, zinc, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.

The body is also able to absorb and use the iron and zinc from red meat more easily than from other foods.


Myth: Vegetarian diets are healthier

Fact: Vegetarians tend to be younger, lighter and less likely to smoke than meat eaters. However, studies have shown they are also more likely to be short on minerals and vitamins such as zinc and vitamins A, B12 and vitamin D.

Overall the differences in nutrient intakes and lifestyles don’t appear to make vegetarians to be any more or less healthy than meat eaters.


Myth: Meat causes bowel cancer

Fact: Some studies have shown a link between high intakes of meat and colorectal (bowel) cancer, with stronger association being found for processed meat.

However, in the UK,the average daily consumption of red meat is within Government guidelines. Indeed, in the past 35 years, the incidence of bowel cancer in the UK has increased dramatically while red meat intakes have declined by around 25%.


Myth: Processed meat is bad for you

Fact: Overall eating patterns are more important when it comes to lowering risk of developing cancer than the individual foods you include or omit from your diet.

For example, good intakes of fibre may help to counterract any increase in risk linked to high intakes of red or processed meat. In other words, eating red or processed meat is unlikely to do you any harm if it’s eaten in moderation and as part of a healthy, balanced diet.


Myth: Meat causes heart disease

Fact: Studies have found it is difficult to isolate the effects of meat alone on heart health - rather overall eating habits and  lifestyle are more important when it comes to preventing heart disease.

While some studies have shown a slight increase in the risk of cardiovascular disease (which includes coronary heart disease and stroke) in meat eaters compared with those who don’t eat meat, other studies have shown that eating lean red meat doesn’t increase cholesterol or blood pressure, and may even reduce levels of ‘bad’ or LDL cholesterol.

This could possibly be because lean red meat contains monounsaturates, omega-3 fats, B vitamins and selenium, all of which help to keep the heart healthy.

In conclusion it’s fine to eat lean red meat as part of a diet for a healthy heart.


Myth: A healthy diet should cut out meat

Fact:This couldn’t be further from the truth. Meat adds variety to people’s diets and is enjoyed by the majority of people. While some people choose not to eat it, there’s no scientific evidence to suggest that eating moderate amounts of lean red meat
is unhealthy.


A special article about the facts around red meat has been produced by nutritionalist Zoë Harcombe, click here to read more.

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