A little less meat, perhaps?

While meat is packed full of protein and other essential nutrients, too much of it has the potential to be harmful to our health and the environment. Bupa dietitian Rosalyn D’Angelo looks at the benefits of reducing our meat intake. 

Our dietary guidelines recommend that we eat no more than 455 grams of red meat each week due to the link between high intakes of red meat and certain cancers. But how much are we actually having? 
 
The most recent National Nutrition Survey looked at our total red meat intake, and it showed that the average Australian eats around 565 grams of red meat per week. That’s 24% more than the recommended maximum. 

Benefits of lean red meat

Lean red meat provides a range of important nutrients including protein, iron, zinc, vitamin B12, iodine and essential fatty acids (AKA omega-3 fish oil). “Lean” means that the meat has less than 10 grams of fat per 100 grams. Examples include trimmed beef, lamb, veal, pork, kangaroo and lean or low salt sausages.

Other foods that are high in protein include chicken, turkey, fish, seafood, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes, beans and tofu. Variety is the key, because these foods all have unique nutritional profiles. For example, nuts, seeds and fish have heart-healthy ‘unsaturated fats’, while beans and legumes are a fantastic source of phytochemicals and fibre. Try not to always default to 'meat and 3 veg'. Try lentils in a curry or soup, beans in a pasta sauce, tofu in a stir fry, or ricotta in a lasagne, for protein with a twist.

Besides the link with some cancers, high intakes of red meat might also mean you’re missing out on other food groups. Only 7% of Australians (one in every 14 people) get enough vegetables, and that’s directly contributing to our obesity epidemic. It also contributes to nutrition related chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease and diabetes. So as a rule, try to always have more vegetables on your plate than meat, to help you get the 5 (or more) serves you need every day. 

Bacon on a plate - Bupa Blue Room

Which meats should I limit?

It’s the processed and fatty meats we need to be particularly weary of.

“Processed meat” refers to meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes, to enhance flavour or improve preservation. The most popular processed meats in Australia are higher fat sausages and ham. 

The World Health Organisation has classified processed meat as “carcinogenic to humans”. What does this mean? The research looked at more than 800 different studies on cancer in humans and found that for every 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily, the risk of developing bowl cancer over your lifetime increases by about 18%. This is due to the fact that the processed meat damages the cells on the inside walls of the bowel. 50 grams a day is equal to 2 slices of bacon, or 2 slices of ham. 

Not to mention, processed meats are also usually high in saturated fat and/or salt, which is not good news for our cholesterol, blood pressure and overall heart disease risk either.

My advice here? Enjoy bacon on the weekends if you like, but choose lean, healthy, and fresh protein (such as beans, yoghurt, milk, eggs or salmon) for breakfast instead of bacon. Consider roast chicken, cheese, tuna or shredded turkey breast in sandwiches instead of ham. 

What else should we consider?

The planet. 

The livestock sector is one of the top contributors to the most serious environmental problems including greenhouse gas emissions, clearing of farming land, and the use of water for feed.
 
So if not for the health of your body, it might be worth considering reducing your meat intake for the health of the planet.
 
Check out Bowl Cancer Australia’s Meat Free Week for some inspo or some of Bupa’s meat free recipes.
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