This article was written March 13th 2012
Another report on Red Meat hits the headlines, recommending we cut our intake of red meat.
Should we cut our intake of Red Meat?
Firstly, Red meat is beef, lamb and pork. Some people just think beef. However, when beef, lamb and pork is added to salt, spices, bread, sugars, omega 6 fats etc to make sausages and ready-meals, this is called processed meat.
The issue with processed meat is the quality of the meat and the added salt, fats and preservatives to stop them going off during transport and storage. For example, the labels on bacon joints reads as ‘contains sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite’.
I recommend completely avoiding processed meats but eating red meat in moderation particularly if it is from an Irish farm where cows are allowed out to pasture and are well cared for by Irish farmers. Red meat is an excellent source of protein and is rich in vitamins and minerals such as iron, B12, zinc, B vitamins and selenium. Visit your local butcher and he will be able to tell you the exact source of his meat.
The World Health organisation recommend no more than 500g a week of red meat but I like to limit it to 250g per week.
There are 3 health concerns with red meat.
- It is high in saturated fat in comparison to white meats and fish, even when it is ‘lean’.
- Also, when we break down haem (the pigment in our red blood cells), also present in animal red meat, we form chemicals called ‘N-nitroso compounds’. N-Nitroso compounds can damage our DNA. Eating red meat adds to our heam load.
- When red meat is cooked at a high temperature, for example charred on barbeques, the meat forms many dangerous carcinogens (heterocyclic amines and toxic lipid peroxides) which damage cells.
Why can too much saturated fat be a bad thing?
It is the balance of fats in our diets that is essential for good health. We need saturated fat but we also need omega 9, 3 and 6 fats , called unsaturated fats. We get these from mainly nuts and seed oils, fish, poultry, beans and plants. If we eat too much red meat and not enough of the other foods, then we are more likely to have too much saturated fat.
We store saturated fat along with other fats, in our cell walls throughout our body. It gives the cell structure and you need that. However excessive saturated fat can be used by our immune cells, to make inflammatory compounds in the body. Too much saturated fats and omega 6 fats (poultry, nut & seed oils) rich in arachidonic acid, have been linked to inflammatory health conditions.
Inflammation (heat, pain, swelling, stiffness) is an immune response and is part of many conditions like arthritis, cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Therefore the fat balance in your daily diet does have an impact on your inflammatory levels. The best example of this is gout which is an extremely painful condition, largely linked to diet.
Omega 3 fats, help to balance omega 6 and saturated fats. Omega 3 contains EPA and DHA, 2 fatty acids used to make anti-inflammatory compounds. These are the balancing compounds but not as many people eat oily fish, green vegetable, soy beans, flaxseeds and walnuts as they eat red meat!
We require a balance of fats as we need both inflammatory and anti-inflammatory compounds to remain healthy.
How can we reduce our haem load?
To the second point, N-Nitroso compounds can damage our DNA . Chlorophyll, found in green plants is thought to block haem breakdown and this is one reason why green vegetables are protective against cancer. Damage to our DNA is linked to abnormal cell growth and differentiation. Therefore when you are eating red meat, make sure you have a few portions of green vegetables with it.
But I love Barbeques!
To the third point, how you cook meat is as important as the quality of the meat you buy. Avoid charring or blackening red meat which tends to happen on a barbeque because the meat forms many dangerous carcinogens (heterocyclic amines and toxic lipid peroxides) which damage our cell DNA. The best way to enjoy a steak is medium to rare. It is also easier to digest meat that is not overcooked.
A great replacement for red meat is game meat. Venison, available from farms in Ireland, is very low in saturated fat and is rich in iron, copper, zinc, B12 and B3. You can pan-fry it for 6 to 8 minutes in a teaspoon of olive oil, garlic and onions and use fresh herbs such as thyme or berries like juniper or blueberries to flavour
How much red meat would I recommend?
I suggest 250g of red meat a week. I regard a beef fillet steak as a treat meal and enjoy a good fillet (150g – 200g) on occasion when dining out.
Eating healthy is all about balance.
Eliminating any 1 food is not ideal unless you have an allergy or intolerance or the food is unhealthy due to its content of salt, preservatives e.g. processed meats. I suggest buying organically reared meat, which should hopefully protect you from exposure to antibiotics which animal herds are subjected to, to protect them from disease. As long as animals enjoy a good life I have no ethical issues with eating animals.