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How often should you eat red meat?

3 minute read
Man cooking barbeque with daughter on balcony

Whether it’s a Bunnings sausage sizzle, nan’s lamb roast or a pie at the footy, there’s no denying Aussies love eating meat. So it’s probably no surprise we’re one of the biggest consumers of red meat per capita in the world.

In addition to being an important part of a healthy diet, red meat is rich in protein and a wide variety of nutrients including iodine, vitamin B12, and Omega 3 fatty acids – not to mention iron and zinc. But, the downside is that over consumption may shorten your lifespan.

How much red meat should you eat per week?

Dietitians recommend a maximum of seven serves of lean red meat per week – be it beef, lamb, veal, pork or kangaroo. A standard serve is 65g of cooked meat (about 90-100g raw).

What happens if you eat too much red meat?

Excessive red meat consumption has been linked to an increased risk of breast, bowel and prostate cancers as well as heart disease, with certain chemicals in red and processed meats causing these foods to be carcinogenic. However, there are also many health benefits, which is why experts still recommend the consumption of red meat, within the guidelines.

Woman preparing a salad at a Barbeque

Ways to reduce your red meat consumption

One of the reasons Aussies eat such big serves is habit; our diets are heavily influenced by our US counterparts who believe bigger is better when it comes to plating up. Many of us also don’t realise we’ve put three to seven days’ worth of red meat into a single meal. Be it habit or lack of knowledge, accredited practicing dietitian and nutritionist, Rachel Hawkins, suggests getting familiar with portion sizes and re-educating our eyes and bellies.

“If you don't have access to kitchen scales, then use your palm as a guide,” Rachel suggests. “The palm of your hand should roughly equate to one portion of meat. Substitute the extra meat you’re used to seeing on your plate with vegetables and whole grains.”

When plating up your meals, Rachel says you should be aiming to fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables (like cauliflower, broccoli, capsicum or zucchini), one quarter with low glycaemic index carbohydrates (like pasta, pearl couscous, quinoa and brown rice) and one quarter with lean protein. In addition to helping moderate your intake of red meat, eating more vegetables and whole grains can help protect you against cancer.

Alternatives to red meat

If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, or if you’re looking to cut back on your red meat consumption, there are plenty of other options. Here are just a few alternatives to a serve of red meat:

  • 2 large (120g) eggs
  • 1 cup (150g) cooked or canned legumes/beans such as lentils, chickpeas or split peas (preferably with no added salt)
  • 170g tofu
  • 30g nuts

Will you still get your nutrients and vitamins if you reduce your red meat intake?

If you consume less than the recommended intake of red meat, the key nutrients you’ll need to watch out for are vitamin B12, iron and zinc, as Rachel says your intake of these nutrients can be trickier when not consuming animal products. You can still get the recommended daily intake of key nutrients and vitamins, but it’s best to discuss supplementation with your health professional for personalised advice.

Eat like the Mediterranean by enjoying meat in small portions and making it an occasional treat rather than something you eat every day. Find out more about the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet.

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