Red meat vital for human nutrition

A recent study has confirmed that red meat plays a vital role in human nutrition for both the immune system and cognitive function, as seen across seven different age groups.

The study, published in the British Nutrition Foundation’s Nutrition Bulletin, found that eating red meat can help cut the gap between recommended intakes of essential minerals and the current lower intakes of many people.

Micronutrient challenges across the age spectrum: is there a role for red meat in the diet? was researched and written by experts who studied data from 103 previous scientific papers on red meat and nutrition.

Co-author of the report, dietitian Dr Carrie Ruxton, explained: “Meat has long played a central role in the human diet and is now recognised as an important source of high-quality protein and essential micronutrients. The research indicates that even in developed countries such as the UK, with a plentiful food supply, there is evidence of under-consumption of key vitamins and minerals which support long-term health. It is notable that many of these are present in red meat, such as iron, vitamin A, vitamin D, selenium, magnesium, potassium and zinc.

“Moderate amounts of lean red meat provide a wide range of important nutrients, without substantially increasing intakes of energy and saturated fat. When consumed in moderate amounts as part of a balanced diet, lean meat is unlikely to increase the risk of chronic disease yet provides an important source of micronutrients.”

Beef and lamb are classed as a rich source of nutrition, with more than 30% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin B3, B12 and zinc. They are also a source of iron, potassium and phosphorous.

Studies have further shown that the fatty acids in red meat help support normal foetal development, in addition to lowering the risk of inflammatory conditions, depression and dementia in later life.

Ruxton also suggested people who eat lean meat regularly tend to also eat more vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy products, leading to a higher intake of nutrients overall. She suggests that this potentially means that including red meat does not “displace other important foods”.

The study was funded through Eblex and Bpex’s meat and health programme.

Eblex and Bpex nutrition manager Maureen Strong said: “While some studies have linked high levels of meat consumption with health issues, the evidence is inconsistent and the research varies in its quality – for instance, one paper that found a link between meat and obesity included pies and pastries as well as lean cuts of meat.

“Indeed, other research found that lean meat consumption does not impact on risk of chronic disease. Chemicals called heterocyclic amines may be produced when meat is cooked or charred and these have been linked with an increased cancer risk. However, there is also evidence that meat contains nutrients with anti-cancer properties,” she added.

Additionally, Strong suggested that older studies may not be as relevant today, due to the reduced fat content of meat.


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