Livestock farmers had a tough year last year with generally poor prices and a tirade of stories in the press about the environmental and human health dangers of beef, sheep and dairy farming.
However, next week at the Oxford Farming Conference, Prof Alice Stanton of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, will deliver a lecture on the potential health benefits associated with eating red meat.
A number of studies in recent years have linked meat to a higher incidence of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks, strokes and diabetes mellitus and the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer also suggested, in 2015, that “processed meats are carcinogenic” and “red meat is probably carcinogenic”.
But as with many health-related studies, it seems the real story is more nuanced than many newspaper headlines would make you believe. Indeed, this seems to be the message from Prof Stanton who claims that red meat is good for health, so long as it is eaten in moderation.
She explains that, “When you carefully examine the studies, where adult populations were subdivided into groups according to how regularly they ate red meat, those who ate moderate-sized portions of about 120g (4 oz) two to five times weekly were less likely to die than those that ate either large quantities very regularly, or those that ate meat very rarely, if ever.”
This is thought to be due to the protective effects of red meat, associated with its balance of protein and richness in key micronutrients such as vitamins A, B12, D and K2. The iron, zinc and selenium contained in red meat are also particularly important for the immune system.
Animal sourced foods also appear to be particularly important for child development and Prof Stanton explains that, “Studies repeatedly show that, for the first 1,000 days of life, protein, iron, vitamin B12, EPA and DHA intake contribute importantly to normal brain and body development,”
So, it appears that the headlines concerning the negative health implications of eating red meat should be taken with a “pinch of salt”. Therefore the focus should be on moderation of meat intake rather than abstention, which I hope will be a message that comes to the fore because it seems to me, many people have forgotten that humans are naturally omnivorous and therefore we are biologically designed to eat meat as well as vegetables.
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