In a modern world saturated with information, confusion, and endless goodwill, knowing what to eat can seem like a major challenge. When it comes to dietary advice, there's nothing more polarising than red meat, with some people advocating meat-centred diets and others recommending almost no consumption at all. Let's take a look at current healthcare advice on red meat consumption from around the world, and try to understand just how much is considered 'safe' when you balance the risks with the rewards.
Red meat includes all types of muscle meat that comes from a mammal, including beef, lamb, pork, veal, mutton, and goat. While pork is sometimes marketed as the "other white meat", in the context of healthcare, it is widely considered to be red meat. When analysing dietary advice on red meat, it's important to distinguish fresh from processed meats, with the later referring to meat that has been transformed to enhance flavour or improve preservation. Processed meats include ham, bacon, and salami, which are produced through methods such as salting, curing, and smoking.
According to most healthcare bodies around the world, meat should always be eaten in moderation. The latest research from the World Health Organisation (WHO) links meat consumption with an increased risk of developing cancer, albeit at a very small risk. The WHO classify both red meats and processed meats as cancer-causing substances, and link excessive consumption to diseases such as heart disease and colon cancer. In fact, the World Cancer Research Fund recommends just three portions of red meat per week, and little or no processed meat at all.
Meat also has a wide range of health benefits. It is an excellent source of protein and a highly efficient source of many important vitamins and minerals. For example, red meat is a rich source of iron, which is especially beneficial for growing toddlers and pregnant women. Red meat can also help to control appetite, with its rich nutritional profile often leading to reduced consumption of carbohydrates and processed foods. The paleo movement has received a lot of attention in recent years, with advocates recommending a diet of lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
Like many things in life, moderation is key, with the amount of red meat consumed having a dramatic effect on whether or not it's beneficial. The association between red meat consumption and cancer is not straightforward, with a contentious relationship existing between cancer rates and increased red meat consumption, and no clear cause-and-effect relationship found. Rather, excessive red meat consumption has simply been associated with certain diseases, with additional lifestyle factors also likely to play an important role.
When planning your diet, it's also important to recognise the negative environmental impacts of meat consumption. Animal farming is a very inefficient way to produce protein and other nutrients when compared to plant-origin food systems, and one of the leading causes of land clearing and habitat destruction around the world. While meat consumption can be extremely beneficial in moderation, limiting your meat intake can help to limit the risk of disease and foster a more sustainable ecological environment.