Meat and risk to health

Commenting on research findings released today by the Archives of Internal Medicine, relating to red meat consumption, Dr Carrie Ruxton from the Meat Advisory Panel (MAP) commented: "This US study looked at associations between high intakes of red meat and risk of mortality, finding a positive association between the two. However, the study was observational, not controlled, and so cannot be used to determine cause and effect. The authors' conclusion that swapping a portion of red meat for poultry or fish each week may lower mortality risk was based only on a theoretical model. This conflicts with evidence from controlled trials.

In a recent intervention study, which compared a healthy, low meat diet (28g/day) with a healthy, high meat diet (156g/day), both groups experienced improvements in heart health indicators such as LDL blood cholesterol levels.[1] In two other studies[2] [3] meat diets were switched for fish diets and markers of colorectal cancer risk, (e.g. apoptosis in colon cells, toxicity of faecal water) were studied. Neither study showed a significant reduction in risk, even after 6 months. This suggests that a simple switch from red meat to white meat or fish doesn’t provide the benefits anticipated by the theoretical model. Clearly, other factors, such as body weight, fat intakes, physical activity and fruit/vegetable consumption, are also important”.

Meat Consumption in the UK

Average meat consumption in the UK is already in line with Government recommendations, addressed last year by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN). They concluded that, an average daily red meat intake of up to 70 grams per day (as cooked meat)[4] is safe for adults[5]. Average intakes in the UK are already below this level, suggesting that, for most people, red meat consumption is not associated with health risk and does not need to be reduced. Red meat is an important source of iron, zinc and vitamin D and has a role in a healthy, balanced diet.

Meat and Health

Meat and meat products also make a significant contribution to intakes of iron, zinc, selenium, vitamin D and B vitamins, and the Department of Health (DH) advises that lean red meat should be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet. Poor zinc intakes are of concern in some population groups, including young girls, infants and children while almost 50% of women of child bearing age have iron intakes below the Lower Reference Nutrient Intake (LRNI).[4] In the UK, red meat can make a critically important contribution to zinc intake, contributing 32% of total zinc intake for men and 27% for women[5] in a ready bioavailable form. Red meat also contributes approximately 17% of total dietary iron intake in the UK and contains the more readily absorbed haem form of iron.[4]

In summary, this paper should not be used to persuade people to reduce their current intake of red meat when it provides essential nutrients that are required as part of a healthy balanced diet.

Notes to editors: 

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[1] Roussell et al 2012 Am J Clin Nutr 95:9–16.

[2] Pot GK et al (2009). Am J Clin Nutr 90, 354-61

[3] Joosen AM et al (2010) Mutagenesis 25, 243-7

[4] Henderson L, Gregory J, et al. (2003). The National Diet and Nutrition Survey: Adults Aged 19-64 Years. Volume 3 Vitamin and mineral intake and urinary analytes. London, The Stationery Office.

[5] SACN (Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition). (2009). "Draft SACN Report on Iron and Health."   Retrieved March 9 2012, from