Can red meat shake the bad rap?
From factory farming, antibiotic usage and animal welfare issues, to pollution and potential cancer connections, it has become almost impossible to read any headline involving meat that isn’t bad (read more). The vast body of research does indeed suggest a correlation between health issues and diets that are high in meat products, but all too often the contributing factors such as quantity, quality, processing and cooking method are overlooked in favour of supporting the over-simplified and misleading view that all red meat is bad for us, full stop.
Are we misunderstanding meat?
Research has identified a correlation, but that does not prove causation. There is also a correlation between sales of organic food and increased diagnosis of autism, but no one would argue this proves organic food causes autism. These claims are based on the bizarre logic that energy from meat is supposedly ‘surplus’ to our requirements because it takes longer to digest than the energy we get from fats and carbohydrates.
This is akin to suggesting that if someone has already obtained their calorie requirements from foods which are high in fat, sugar and carbohydrates, any additional calories from fruit and vegetables would also be ‘surplus’ to their requirements and contribute to obesity. The fact that it takes longer to digest meat proteins means they make us feel fuller for longer and this increased satiety makes lean mean an important and effective aid to weight loss.
A healthy diet is not simply a matter of the number of calories we eat, but the quality of the nutrients which accompany those calories and unlike foods which are high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, meat provides a number of important nutrients.
Dealing with deficiency
Public Health England has deemed vitamin D deficiency a virtual pandemic, recommending food supplements to overcome the shortfall (read more). Although not an official ‘source’ of vitamin D, red meat nevertheless contributes 15-20% of our daily intake due to the limited number of vitamin D-rich foods in the diet.
Iron deficiency is one of the most common shortfalls in the UK — The National Diet and Nutrition Survey confirms that one in five (18%) women aged 16 to 64 is deficient and one in ten (10%) 19 to 64-year-olds have such low levels they are anaemic.
And red meat is one of our most readily absorbed sources of iron. It also provides around 15% of our daily niacin, a B vitamin which supports normal energy release, and more than 20% of daily vitamin B12 which helps to reduce tiredness and fatigue.
Spice it up
Different foods offer different benefits, just as many foods have their own distinct drawbacks. Red meat is indeed very nutritious, explaining how humans who have fed on it over the past 2 million years have thrived. However, in the past 70-80 years, the lessons we have learned in food production efficiency has resulted in us over eating meat that is often of speedily cooked and declining quality. To get the best from the food available and avoid the pitfalls, it is vital to aim for as varied a diet achievable – something that can’t be achieved by excluding high quality, organic, protein sources such as red meat.