Is red meat really that bad for you?

By David O’Farrell

For many years now, public health bodies in Ireland have been encouraging people to eat less red meat, due to it being a potential cause of diseases such as cancer. However, a recent report carried out by a group of international scientists suggests that eating less red meat may not be beneficial at all.

Led by Dalhousie University and McMaster University, both in Canada, the results of the report claimed that if 1,000 people cut out three portions of red meat over their lifetime there would be seven fewer deaths from cancer in that group. The report also found that cutting out red meat over an 11 year span, would lead to just four fewer deaths from heart disease

The report also claimed that if 1,000 people ate three fewer portions of red meat every week for 11 years, there would be six fewer cases of type two diabetes. spoke to dietitian Aisling Piggot of the British Dietetic Association to get her take on the report.

“Red meat is not wholly good or wholly bad”

“We are constantly bombarded by mixed messages around red meat, which is really confusing and conflicting for the public. The recent review explores the overall risk and examines current evidence. We need to be aware that the link between red meat and health isn’t simply black and white,” said Piggot.

“Red meat is not wholly good or wholly bad. It is rich in iron, often affordable (depending on cut) and enjoyed by many of us. On the other hand, if red meat was our only source of protein, I would be encouraging other sources and balance.”

Other public health officials have criticised the report, with Harvard scientists claiming it undermines the public’s trust in science, as previously we have been told to steer clear of red meat for health benefits. The report is also likely to create a stir amongst environmentalists with regards to the high amount of greenhouse gases that beef and lamb farming tend to produce. However, scientists say that this is slowly changing with advancements in farming methods around the world.

In Ireland alone, 87,000 tonnes of red meat is consumed every year. That is approximately 19kg per person. So what is the right amount to be eating?

“Personally, I would suggest one to two portions of red meat per week”

“This is very much dependent on the person,” said Piggot. “Personally, I would suggest one to two portions of red meat per week, should you choose to eat it and it fits in with a healthy diet. However, I am always keen to promote the benefit of home cooking and avoiding processed meals.

“This report doesn’t change my outlook, but I would encourage readers not to take the report as indicating they should eat red meat to excess.”

Piggot says that there is no magic answer as to what the correct amount of red meat is to eat. “The idea of food being wholly good or wholly bad really appeals to us as a society. Unfortunately, all food has its place in our diet, and a sensible approach to enjoying our food is key!”

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