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Is red meat bad for our health?

Our love affair with red meat appears to be seared into our national psyche, but is it doing us damage? The good news is that there’s no reason to start a strike on steaks or ban burgers, but if you eat large amounts of lamb, beef and veal every week, is it time to reduce the consumption? Healthminute asks nutrition health experts for the answers.

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Clinical Nutritionist at The Sprout Nutrition & Wellness, Gemma Clark tells HealthMinute that grass-fed, organic red meat is a fantastic source of protein, iron, zinc, and vitamin B12 and omega threes, but only in small doses with the Australian Dietary Guidelines recommending a maximum of no more than 500g of lean red meat each week.

Dietitian Association of Australia spokeswoman, Melanie McGrice agrees saying, lean red meat has nutritional benefits; however the same cannot be said for processed meats like bacon, salami, ham, and sausages. Melanie adds, “These foods really should be limited because they offer very little nutrition and yet are higher in salt and saturated fat and sometimes nitrates as well, so they can be damaging to our health if we are eating them too often.”

The World Health Organisation has highlighted the link between processed meat and bowel cancer. The peak health body has classified processed meats as a group 1 carcinogen, which means there is sufficient evidence that it causes cancer. Based on an analysis of data from 10 studies, it’s estimated every 50-gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by around 18 percent. There is also some emerging evidence of associations between red meat and colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancer.

A recent review by the Cancer Council of Australia found more than 2600 bowel cancers diagnosed in Australia in 2010 were attributable to processed and red meat consumption. It’s unclear what is behind the increased risk: the high-fat content, the digestion process, charring in the cooking process or simply that people who consume a lot of red meat miss out on eating other nutrients from plant-based food.

There is some evidence that when red meat and processed meat is broken down in the gut, chemicals form, which have been found to damage the cells that line the bowel.

The National Health and Medical Research Council and Cancer Council both recommend that people eat no more than 65 to 100 grams of cooked red meat, three-to-four times a week. A practical and easy way to ensure moderate consumption of red meat is to use Melanie’s simple approach: the rule of threes. Each week aim for: three serves of red meat, three serves of fish and three serves of legumes or vegetarian meals. “For the other meals you could add in chicken or additional fish or legume meals or meatless Mondays are another a great way to reduce your intake of red meat,” Melanie says.

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