We put 10 of the most common nutrition questions to Prof Grant Schofield and Dr Caryn Zinn.
Here’s Question 1: How much red meat should I eat?
The implication there is that red meat is bad for you and we should limit it, otherwise something bad will happen to us, e.g. we’ll be malnourished or we’ll get a disease from too much meat. What you want to do then is ask, ‘well, is there evidence that that’s true?’. You could either follow populations of people and see that people who ate the most meat somehow got the sickest, or you could do an experiment where you fed people more meat and you demonstrated that they got sicker.
There is some evidence in some populations, mainly in North America, that the combined category of processed and red meat causes a small increase in disease. And that’s why we’ve got recommendations around a few hundred grams a week.
Evidence for limiting meat intake is weak
To our knowledge, there’s no experiment that clearly demonstrates that too much meat causes an increase in disease. On all levels of science, evidence for limiting fresh red meat intake is weak. Recent studies and summation of studies, called meta-analysis, show exactly that.
Is there enough evidence to recommend people eat less amounts of red meat to reduce disease? The answer is, we don’t think so. Is there enough evidence to recommend reducing some processed meat? Probably. And that falls into the category of processed food, which in our opinion is the main target for nutrition.
But really – how much meat should I eat?
From a practical point of view, 500 grams of meat a week is the general guideline. If you put a piece of red meat into the palm of your hand, that is about 100 grams of red meat. So you’re allowed that five times a week. The way this could play out is maybe three times a week, you have something a little bit bigger of red meat, whether it’s beef or lamb, and then combine that and your other meals with other sorts of meats. You might have some fish, some white meat like chicken or pork, so you are incorporating red meat into your week with other protein sources to get a wide variation of nutrition.
“If you limit your meat intake and you have other whole, fresh food products, you’ll get a diversity and a range of nutrients, that will probably support a better range of gut microbes.”
In addition, there are reports, starting with Vilhjalmur Stefansson in the early 20th century, through to people eating carnivore diets (eating nothing but meat) now, that they appear, on the surface, to be reasonably healthy. That’s not what we recommend, but it’s interesting that such things exist.
It is a good indication that for people who need to cut out plants and just have meat – for allergy, tolerance or other reasons – can actually fare very well with no adverse indication, both physically and biochemically.
Prof Grant Schofield and Dr Caryn Zinn are the lead instructors in the Certificate of Advanced Nutrition.