Research has found that girls who had higher intakes of meat and protein between the ages of three and seven were more likely to have started their periods by the time they were 12-and-a-half than those who ate less.
Forty-nine per cent of girls eating more than 12 portions of meat a week at the age of seven had reached puberty by 12-and-a-half, compared with 35% of those who ate less than four portions of meat a week.
The study was led by Dr Imogen Rogers of the University of Brighton who compared the diets of 3,000 12-year-old girls.
Despite the meat link, Dr Rogers said that weight could not be the only factor in girls having periods earlier, as the average age had not gone down further with increasing levels of obesity.
She said: “Meat is a good source of zinc and iron, requirements for which are high during pregnancy. A meat-rich diet could be seen as indicating suitable nutritional conditions for a successful pregnancy.”
Dr Rogers added that further studies were needed, but evidence suggested it was healthier to avoid eating very large amounts of meat. The research has been published in the journal Public Health Nutrition.