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Meat to Beat Obesity

Meat to Beat Obesity

By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD

A new report from the British Nutrition Foundation has dispelled the idea that eating red meat is ‘bad’ for us. After reviewing hundreds of scientific studies on red meat and health, the BNF report concluded that there’s no scientific evidence to suggest that eating moderate amounts of lean red meat is unhealthy.

Furthermore, meat may actually help in the fight against obesity thanks to its protein content. The BNF report recognises that higher protein intakes improve the feeling of fullness at the end of a meal and so can help to prevent snacking later in the day. Ultimately, this helps to reduce calorie intakes, which in turn may boost weight loss.

The BNF report also dispels the myth that all meat is high in fat or causes heart disease. The report confirms that red meat has become much leaner in recent years, with the fat content having been reduced by more than 30% for pork, 15% for beef and 10% for lamb. Meanwhile, the report points out that red meat actually contains more heart healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, than saturates. But that’s not all. The report highlights that meat contains small amounts of omega-3 fats, which help to keep the heart healthy. Only oily fish contain good amounts of omega-3s, making the small amounts in red meat an important source, especially for people who eat little or no oily fish.

The report also reveals that while some studies have shown that meat eaters have a slight increase in the risk of heart disease compared with those who don’t eat meat, other studies have shown that eating lean red meat doesn’t increase cholesterol or blood pressure, and may even reduce levels of ‘bad’ or LDL cholesterol. This is possibly because it contains many heart healthy nutrients such as monounsaturates, omega-3 fats, B vitamins and selenium.

The link between red meat and colorectal (bowel) cancer also remains unclear according to the report. While many studies have shown that high intakes of meat, and particularly processed meat, increase the risk, the incidence of bowel cancer in the UK has increased dramatically in the past 35 years, while red meat intakes have declined by around 25%. The BNF report recognises that being overweight or obese and not taking much exercise are stronger risk factors for bowel cancer, while eating plenty of fruit and vegetables probably helps to lower the risk. The report highlights that it’s probably overall eating habits – rather than just meat consumption – that’s more important when it comes to lowering risk. In particular, the report found that good intakes of fibre appeared to counteract any increase in risk linked to high intakes of red or processed meat.

Finally, the report recognises the important contribution red meat can make to nutrient intakes. Red meat provides almost a fifth of the iron in most people’s diets in the UK – this is particularly important for women as currently, 40% of women under 34 have seriously low intakes of iron putting them at risk of anaemia. Furthermore, meat and meat products contain many other nutrients important for good health, including protein, zinc, selenium, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.

WLR says:

In the past couple of decades, many people have eaten less meat because of worries that it’s fattening or unhealthy. So, it’s great to hear that the British Nutrition Foundation believe it’s fine to eat lean red meat in moderation as part of a healthy, balanced diet. And when it comes to losing weight, it now seems that lean red meat is an excellent choice.

Choosing lean cuts of meat, trimming off any visible fat and using a cooking method that doesn’t require oil or butter, will help to reduce the calories and fat further – while giving you plenty of protein to prevent hunger kicking in. And serving lean red meat with plenty of fibre-rich veg, pulses, wholegrains and fruit will help to make meals more filling without adding too many calories, whilst helping to protect you from bowel cancer. Try the following:

  • Bring back meat and two veg – always serve lean roast meat with at least two servings of vegetables (potatoes don’t count as one!)
  • Steak out – serve lean steak with loads of salad, grilled mushrooms and grilled tomatoes
  • Don’t get in a stew – add beans, veggies or barley to meat stews, casseroles and soups
  • Beef it up – add stacks of veggies to mince dishes such as chilli con carne, spaghetti bolognese, lasagne and cottage pie.
  • Make a meal of it – use wholegrain bread for beef or ham sandwiches and pile in the salad.

Finally for good health – and to keep calories down – it’s best to eat no more than 140g/5oz of red or processed meat a day. And swap fatty and salty processed meats like burgers, bacon and sausages for lean red meat.

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