The guilt-free guide to enjoying red meat: balancing the pros and cons of your favorite foods

Whether it’s a tasty Sunday roast or a succulent BBQ blast, red meat has long been at the heart of the British diet – and for many people it’s the real star of any meal.

But of course there are also disadvantages. The National Food Strategy – a review commissioned by the government to improve the country’s health – revealed this month that we should be eating 30 percent less red meat by 2032 ‘if the UK is to tackle the interconnected climate and health crises’.

The Ministry of Health already advises that we eat no more than 70 grams (cooked weight) of red meat per day.

These guidelines were created primarily because of the possible link between red meat consumption and colon cancer. That’s according to a 2015 World Health Organization report that evaluated more than 800 studies.

The WHO report concluded that there was sufficient evidence to classify processed meat as absolute carcinogen (carcinogen) and red meat as probable carcinogen.

Whether it’s a tasty Sunday roast or a succulent BBQ blast, red meat has long been at the heart of the British diet – and for many people it’s the real star of any meal.

But why are these foods a cancer risk? Red meat is categorized as meat rich in myoglobin, the red-colored protein found in the muscles of mammals.

This is why pork, which contains more myoglobin than poultry and fish, is classified as red meat, despite being paler in color.

When myoglobin is broken down during digestion, it forms N-nitroso carcinogenic compounds, which can irritate or damage the cells lining the gut. This leads to them dividing faster, which increases the risk of cancer.

Processed meats, which contain preservatives such as nitrates or have been formed by salting, brining or smoking, have an even stronger link with cancer. This is because the preservatives they contain form even more cancer-causing N-nitroso compounds.

According to Cancer Research UK, there is an increased risk of colon cancer for every 25 grams of processed meat a person eats per day, and that’s just around a slice of bacon or a slice of ham.

But red meat lovers need not despair, as it also has health benefits. It’s packed with high-quality protein – about 20g per 100g – which is broken down into essential amino acids needed by the body to build muscle and bone.

This can make it especially helpful for older people who are losing muscle mass. In fact, a study from Deakin University in Australia published in 2017 found that eating three to four servings of lean red meat weekly — combined with exercise — improved muscle size and strength in older women, reducing the risk of falls. was reduced.

Meanwhile, carnosine, a molecule made up of two amino acids found in red meat, may even help protect the brain from aging.

Pork, which contains more myoglobin than poultry and fish, is classified as red meat, despite being paler in color

Pork, which contains more myoglobin than poultry and fish, is classified as red meat, despite being paler in color

Studies have shown that carnosine levels are lower in patients with brain diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Other research published in The BMJ in 2019, involving more than 48,000 people, found that while vegetarians and vegans had fewer cases of heart disease, they had a 20 percent higher risk of stroke compared to the meat eaters.

The researchers suggested this could be related to low levels of vitamin B12, a nutrient found only in animal products.

Red meat is a good source of all the B vitamins, which are essential for brain function and energy levels.

Red meat also contains the most absorbable form of iron (heme iron). This helps red blood cells carry oxygen around the body, which is essential for energy levels.

So how do you balance the pros and cons? The key is to choose good quality meat and eat it in moderation.

“People should keep in mind that sticking to the recommended daily limit of 70 g or less for red meat” [a ‘safe’ level worked out by looking at studies of red meat intake and cancer risk] basically means you don’t eat it every day,” explains Clare Thornton-Wood, a dietitian from Guildford, Surrey.

‘It’s not much – for example three slices of roast beef is already 90 grams – so it’s your average over the week that is important.

“This means you shouldn’t eat red meat more than three days a week, and processed red meats, such as sausage and bacon, you should treat every now and then.”

To help you get the maximum benefits with minimum guilt, Clare selects her top six sources of healthier red meat…

.