Meat and meat alternatives make up one of the five food groups recommended in the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. Meat products are a source of nine essential nutrients, and are considered a good quality source of protein given its complete amino acid profile, essential for muscle growth and repair.
Over the last 20 years, the consumption of meat and meat products has reduced while the consumption of chicken and seafood has increased.
The latest National Nutrition Survey indicates that many females are not eating enough red meat, with studies suggesting that a low meat intake is associated with lower iron and zinc levels. Around one in three women have an iron deficiency, with this condition particularly affecting toddlers and women of childbearing age. Low iron levels may cause symptoms such as fatigue, irritability and poor concentration.
Interestingly, vegetarians do not tend to experience the issue of low iron, as their bodies have adapted to more efficiently absorbing iron from plant-based food sources, or non-haem iron.
Is red meat good for you?
Red meats are one of the best dietary sources and contain the most absorbable form of iron and zinc for Australians. Iron is vital for carrying oxygen around the body, while zinc is important for strengthening immunity. Red meats also contain B group vitamins (B2, B3, B6, B12) and phosphorous, essential for a healthy nervous system and for energy production, and omega-3 fatty acids for heart and brain health.
Contrary to popular belief, fully-trimmed lean red meats are effective in managing and reducing the likelihood of obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar levels (the risk factors for type 2 diabetes), when consumed as part of a well balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.
How much meat should I eat?
Consuming 100 g of lean red meat 3-4 times per week is the ideal intake given the presence of the haem-iron, the form of iron that is absorbed four times better by the body than plant-based iron. Kangaroo offers the highest levels of iron, followed closely by beef, and then lamb. White meat and fish are excellent sources of protein but contain lower levels of iron, with the exception of sardines, which contain the same amount of iron per 100 g as beef.
It is important to remember that although meat is a nutrient dense food and can make weight loss and long-term weight maintenance easier, having meat-free days has numerous health benefits.
Plant-based proteins such as legumes make an excellent high-fibre meat alternative, with chickpeas containing almost double the iron of beef. Other plant foods high in protein include nuts, tofu and vegetables, namely mushrooms, spinach, zucchini, eggplant, peas, corn, Brussels sprouts and potato.