A group of nutrition experts collated evidence from 103 scientific papers on red meat and nutrition and found that red meat can help boost intakes of essential minerals, as well as helping improve immunity and cognitive function.
Dietitian Dr Carrie Ruxton, co-author of the report, said: “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.
“Integrating red meat into diets across the age spectrum, from infanthood to old age, may help to narrow the present gap between intakes and recommendations. In addition, there is emerging evidence that nutrients commonly found in red meat may play a role in supporting cognitive function, immune health, and addressing iron deficiency.”
Ruxton added that adding moderate amounts of lean meat to the diet does not substantially increase intakes of energy and saturated fat, and that research showed people who eat lean meat also tend to consume more vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy products, “suggesting that inclusion of red meat does not displace other important foods”.
The study, Micronutrient challenges across the age spectrum: is there a role for red meat in the diet?, was funded by UK meat bodies Eblex and Bpex and will be published in the British British Nutrition Foundation’s Nutrition Bulletin.
Maureen Strong, Eblex and Bpex nutrition manager said that while some research has linked high meat intake with health issues, the evidence provided in these studies has not always been consistent.
“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 said.
“In addition, older studies may not be so relevant today as the fat content of meat has reduced considerably over the past few decades as a result of changes in breeding and animal feeding practices.”