July 25, 2024

What meat should we eat and how much?

Official UK advice recommends eating no more than 70g of red or processed meat per day – which is around the size of a deck of cards – but there is no official guidance on white meat (chicken and turkey).

We all know that red meat can be high in salt and saturated fat, meaning that eating too much over time can raise cholesterol and blood pressure, ultimately contributing to heart and circulatory disease. Diets high in saturated fat have also been linked to poor cognitive function, studies show. 

The key, as usual, is moderation. Prof Givens recommends eating slightly less than officially recommended – the equivalent of around 50g of unprocessed red meat per day and cutting out processed meat intake to zero. 

It’s also important to be savvy about the cut of meat you choose.

“Fattier cuts, especially red meat, tend to be high in saturated fat. Choose lower-fat versions of minced red meat,” says Rob Hobson, a registered nutritionist and the author of the cookbook Unprocess Your Life.

“It doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy fattier meats occasionally, but it’s healthier to go for lean meat most of the time. Cuts of poultry like the thigh, drumstick and wings are fattier but you can just remove the skin after cooking if you want to reduce the saturated fat content,” he says. 

For comparison, 100g of lamb can contain around 20g of saturated fat, while the same amount of turkey breast contains less than 1g.

But when it comes to white meat, although it is a good source of lean protein, it contains fewer of the micronutrients found in red meat – especially B12 and iron, Mr Hobson notes.

“As plant-based foods have grown in popularity, it has been assumed that meat is bad for you, but in fact it is very nutritious, especially lean red meat. There are wider issues surrounding meat in terms of its impact on the environment but nutritionally lean red meat is more nutritious that lean white meat,” he adds.

Prof Givens adds: “The justification for red meat consumption is really a nutritional one so I would go for lean beef, which generally has a higher iron and zinc content than lamb, although both tend to have similar vitamin B12. Pork is generally lower in all these nutrients.”

Can vegetarians and vegans still have good brain health?

While meat forms part of a healthy diet, people can still get the vitamins they need from plant-based foods – but it can prove more difficult and they will need to take supplements.

Vegetarians and vegans need to eat plenty of other sources of protein, such as beans, lentils and quinoa, to make sure they are consuming the right mixture of amino-acids.

Additionally, B12 is found naturally only in animal products, meaning those whose diets are plant-based need to eat foods fortified with the vitamin, such as cereal or soya products, or take a supplement. Studies have shown that a B12 deficiency is widespread among vegans.

Research has also revealed that the body better absorbs brain-supporting minerals zinc and iron from meat than plants.


Three healthy ways to enjoy meat, from nutritionist Rob Hobson

Cajun chicken 

‘Cajun chicken is a go-to for me and it is great with a mango fruit salsa. This spice blend works well with all sorts of meats.’

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