The media frequently report that people are cutting back on their meat consumption with the implication that eating less meat is better for our health. This misconception is often based on the idea that meat contains lots of saturated fat and has been associated with colon cancer. Neither of these things are strictly true. What meat contains a lot of is protein. The fat content varies considerably depending on the cut of meat but typically consists of more mono-unsaturated fat than saturated fat. (You can read more about why saturated fat is not to be feared here.)
The reports linking red meat to a possible rise in cancer have been severely criticised by many independent experts and you can read more about that here.
What a typical media reports fail to mention is the exceptional nutrient density of animal-sourced foods, especially red meat. A wide range of vitamins and minerals are available in significant quantities and in a bio-available form. For example, how much iron a food contains is nowhere near as important as how much of that iron can be absorbed and used. In red meat, iron exists as heme-iron, which is readily absorbed from the intestines. Plants contain an inorganic form of iron which is difficult to absorb.
A typical piece of red meat contains:
Protein There are 20 different amino acids which the body uses to create the proteins we need. The liver can make 11 of them but 9 are regarded as ‘essential’, which means they have to be present in the food we eat. Red meat contains all of these essential amino acids and is, therefore, referred to as complete protein. Edible plants do not contain complete protein because they are invariably lacking one or more essential amino acids. You have to eat a wide variety, and large quantity, of plants to obtain an adequate supply of all the amino acids. These are the percentages of protein in 100g of a selection of animal and plant foods:
|Chicken breast |
Fat An adequate intake of natural fat is essential to our health. We need saturated fat for a variety of metabolic functions. Red meat does not supply ‘too much’. Oily fish, nuts and olive oil have 2 times, 9 times and 14 times the total fat, respectively, of a sirloin steak. Oily fish, nuts and olive oil contain 1.5 times, 3 times and 7 times, respectively, the saturated fat of a sirloin steak.
Vitamins Red meat provides a wide range of essential vitamins. Sometimes people do not realise how important these are to our overall health.
|A||Healthy eyes, skin, teeth, bones and immunity. Cell division and growth. Protects DNA from damage|
|B1||Healthy metabolism, brain, nerves, heart. Boosts immunity, learning and memory|
|B2||Aids digestion, memory, heart, red blood cells, skin and hair; boosts mood and energy levels|
|B3||Helps reduce risk of heart disease, arthritis, impotency, diabetes and depression|
|B5||Helps reduce stress, acne; aids wound healing, skin and mental performance|
|B6||Aids healthy blood vessels and sleep; reduces anaemia, PMS, nausea and kidney stones|
|B9||Reduces birth defects, ageing, heart attacks, depression, cancer; builds muscle|
|B12||Essential for brain function and cardiovascular system. No B12 in plants|
|D||Essential for immunity, reduces risk of CVD, MS, autism. Strong teeth and bones|
|E||Anti-oxidant. Good for skin, scars, wrinkles, nails|
|K||Regulates blood clotting. Prevents calcification of arteries. Reduces osteoporosis|
Minerals Red meat contains a wide variety of minerals. They have important roles in the correct function of an array of bodily functions. Listed below are some of their actions.
|Calcium||Vital for bones, teeth, muscle contraction, red blood cells|
|Copper||Important for bones, nerves, blood vessels, immunity, collagen|
|Iron||Oxygen carrying, brain function, concentration|
|Magnesium||Muscle, nerve function. Heart rhythm, energy, blood sugar and pressure|
|Potassium||Blood pressure, muscle strength, water balance, anxiety|
|Phosphorus||Digestion, protein formation, cell repair, hormonal balance|
|Selenium||Immunity, fertility, thyroid, heart health, anti-oxidant|
|Zinc||Immunity, protects DNA, wound healing, growth and development|
Meat is also a source of choline. It is not classified as a vitamin or mineral but it is an essential nutrient.
- Cell structure: It is needed to make fats that support the structural integrity of cell membranes.
- Cell messaging: It is involved in the production of compounds that act as cell messengers.
- Fat transport and metabolism: It is essential for making a substance required for removing cholesterol from your liver. Inadequate choline may result in fat and cholesterol build-up in your liver.
- DNA synthesis: Choline and other vitamins, such as B12 and folate, help with a process that’s important for DNA synthesis.
- A healthy nervous system: This nutrient is required to make acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter. It’s involved in memory, muscle movement, regulating heartbeat and other basic functions.
Omega-3 Long chain omega-3 fatty acids are usually associated with fish and fish oils but red meat contains a significant amount of these vitally important fats. The important fats are usually referred to as DPA, DHA and EPA.
- They are essential for brain function and help fight depression and anxiety
- DHA is a major structural component of the retina of the eye and is vital for vision
- They are essential for brain growth and development in infants
- They help to lower risk factors for heart disease
- They can reduce ADHD in children
- They reduce the risk of age-related mental decline and Alzheimer’s disease
- Omega-3s reduce inflammation, which is a component of many modern diseases