Processed meat could be bad for asthma
Meat is as bad as sugar
Red meat and burnt meat cause bowel cancer
Horse meat scandal, say no more
Rats in KFC
You get the picture. Talk about bad press on the meat front, whilst the angelic vegetable is singing from the roof tops. And of course all meat has been bagged up together so there seems to be an all or nothing ruling when it comes to what goes with your two veg. And it seems to be working. We are eating 13% less meat than we were 10 years ago and veganism is now one of Britain’s “fastest growing lifestyle movements”. The reason for this shift certainly appears to be because of the perceived health benefits of a vegan diet, and no wonder really when we hear such scary reports about meat and such positive reports about pant based diets.
However, an average UK resident still eats >84Kg of meat each year. Poultry now accounts for nearly half of all the meat bought in the UK but we are eating more processed meat than 10 years ago and that’s the worry. The sausage roll and meat pie is the affordable and tasty (debatable) way to eat meat but not necessarily the best choice for our health.
I am always a wearer of rosy coloured spectacles so lets give meat a break and look at the positives! As far as I’m concerned (and in my professional opinion), there is no reason why we should exclude meat from our diet – UNPROCESSED meat does not contribute to cardiovascular disease or diabetes, as part of a healthy, balanced diet. It is the processed, played with meat that is often loaded with salt and saturated fat, the way it is cooked (crispy coated chicken or a sausage rolled in buttery, flaky pastry mmm!) and of course what you eat it with….any guesses?!
To give a balanced view, a vegetarian or vegan diet is not necessarily healthy either. I needn’t tell you that living on cheese and spaghetti on toast is not the best approach! On the plus side, we know that vegetarians have 10% lower rates of cancer, 32% lower rates of high blood pressure and heart disease as well as lower rates of diabetes.
So lets hear it for the benefits from eating what I call ‘real’ meat
1. A Better Quality Protein
There are 9 ‘essential‘ amino acids (used to build protein) that our body simply cannot make. Therefore we must get them from our diet. In this regard, animal protein (including eggs) is an excellent source of all the amino acid building blocks that we need. Most plant proteins have a sub optimal amino acid profile as they are often missing in 1 or 2 of the building blocks. My analogy for this is in trying to build a house.
To build a house fit for purpose, you need bricks, cement, tiles, pipes, wires, windows, wood, glass and doors. If you miss just one of these components, you end up with a draught house that leaks or a cold house with not water – you need all 9 components to make the house work.
There is a greater need for vegetarians compared to meat eaters to ensure their diet is sufficiently varied with good plant based protein sources such as:
- hemp seed
- chia seeds
- other seeds & nuts
2. Loaded with Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in animal products and more so in red vs white meat. Vitamin B-12 deficiency is a potential problem for vegetarians & vegans, making it almost an essential requirement that vitamin B-12–fortified foods are included in your diet. If you only eat a small amount or avoid all animal products, it’s important to have a reliable source of vitamin B12 in your diet in the form of a recommended supplement. Other good sources of vitamin B12 include:
- Milk, cheese & dairy
- Yeast extracts like Marmite
- Fortified breakfast cereals and fortified soya products
And not only that, meat also contains plenty of other B vitamins including B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and B9 as well as Vit D; vital for energy releasing processes, your immune system, heart health and mood!
3. Excellent source of healthy polyunsaturated fats
Dont just think of bad fats when you think of meat. Yes red meat may have more of this saturated fat but did you know it also contains healthy fats too? Unprocessed meat is rich with healthy fats; monounsaturated fats that we get from olive oil and fish (if a pescatarian) or meat from grass-fed animals are fantastic sources of Omega-3 fats – these are particularly beneficial in helping to maintain a healthy heart and reduce the risk of heart disease when eaten as part of a healthy diet. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids suitable for vegetarians include:
- flaxseed (linseed) oil
- rapeseed oil
- soya-based foods, such as tofu
- hemp and chia seeds
- mung beans and kidney beans
- egg enriched with omega-3
Some evidence suggests however that vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids may not have the same benefits for reducing the risk of heart disease as those in oily fish.
4. Packed full of Iron
Red meat is probably one of the best sources of iron but turkey is also up there with these leaders! Vegetarians are more likely to have lower iron stores than meat eaters as the iron from plants is much less absorbable. If you’re a vegetarian, keep in mind that the absorption rate of the iron from animal-based sources ranges from 15-35 %, compared to just 2-20 % from plants. Vegetarians may need to consume twice as much dietary iron as meat-eaters but that certainly didn’t stop the likes of Carl Lewis, Venus Williams or Mike Tyson!
Sources of iron for vegetarians include:
- eggs (lacto-ovo vegetarians)
- pulses (all beans, lentils and chickpeas etc)
- dried fruit (apricots, raisins and prunes are particularly good)
- dark-green leafy vegetables
- wholemeal bread
- fortified cereals (with added iron)
So my advice is go knock yourself out on a tasty steak if you fancy it BUT the recommended amount is only 70g for red meat and only once per week. Opt for a couple of meat free days each week if you can, or even one as a minimum is a good step if you think you might fade away!