Red meat nutrition: FAQs

Butcher Tips and Guides 5th Jan 2021

Red meat can be an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. Take a look at our most frequently asked questions to find out key red meat nutrition facts.

Which nutrients do red meat give me?

Beef, lamb and pork are full of protein and a range of other essential nutrients, necessary for good health and wellbeing. Just like anything else, no one food provides everything we need, but we can be confident in the fact that red meat is a great way of getting all our essential amino acids (building blocks of protein) into our diet.

Beef is a source of iron, specifically haem iron, which is more easily absorbed than non-haem iron from plant-based foods. Iron helps form healthy blood cells, and transports oxygen around our bodies.

Pork contains ten essential nutrients, including niacin and riboflavin which help with normal energy production.

Red meat is a rich source of vitamin B12 which is a building block of red blood cells and helps to fight fatigue. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products, and those following a meat-free diet would need to take supplements to fortify their diet with Vitamin B12.

Advancements in farming methods and butchery techniques have also meant that the fat content of red meat has also reduced over the years. In fact, some cuts of pork can contain less fat than chicken, so it is a useful alternative to help in encouraging a varied diet.

Is red meat bad for me?

For those of us who enjoy eating meat, we can be safe in the knowledge that we can continue to do this as part of a healthy balanced diet. UK government guidelines suggest that we can eat up to 70g of cooked red meat per person per day. Remember this doesn’t mean you have to eat meat every day, but you perhaps will have a nice shepherd’s pie one day, a pork loin with some seasonal veg another day, and perhaps that treat of a steak at the weekend – all still within your daily, or rather weekly, recommended intake (500g cooked meat per week).

But isn’t red meat linked with cancers and other health issues?

It’s fair to say red meat has been disproportionately demonised by the reports like EAT Lancet and IARC. However, the claims they make about the dangers of red meat are not as scientifically robust as media often suggest. No one food group causes cancer and the studies reporting findings are based on observational studies, not cause-and-effect experiments.

When it comes to lean red meat, there is no evidence showing any causal relationship with the initiation of cancers. Avoiding red meat in the diet is not a protective strategy against cancer, as results from many studies show an extremely weak association between high red meat consumption and increased cancer risk. There is also evidence from large European studies which illustrate that the risk of bowel and colorectal cancer is the same, whether you eat meat or follow a vegetarian diet. Additional research has demonstrated no association between red meat intake and risk of other types of cancer including prostate and breast cancer.

Government experts are clear how much red meat we can eat in the UK, which is up to 70g cooked red meat per person per day. In fact, the National Diet and Nutrition Survey shows the UK average intake is 65g, of which just over 15g is processed meat, so most people in fact do not need to reduce their red meat consumption to reduce health risks. Those eating over 90g per day are encouraged to bring their intake to within the recommended 70g per person per day.

How do I enjoy red meat as part of a balanced diet?

Eating a range of foods is of course the best way to achieve a balanced diet – a flexitarian diet some may say! So, combining meat dishes with fruits and vegetables or other protein sources is a great way to achieve balance. Chilli con carne with kidney beans, steak on a bed of wilted spinach or puy lentils, or fajitas with plenty of peppers are all great examples of combining foods for flavour as well as nutrition. For example, did you know peppers are a great source of Vitamin C (interesting fact: different colours have different amounts) and Vitamin C helps you to absorb iron better. So, when having beef fajitas, made with a rump steak which is a rich source of iron, the peppers will help you to absorb that iron. So, food combinations work in a variety of ways!