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Red meat in a healthy diet

More than nine out of ten people in the UK eat meat, making it one of our key foods. Health experts recognise the important role of red meat within a healthy, balanced diet but we still see negative headlines in the media.

So, what are the facts about meat and how much should we be eating?

Eatwell: eat meat

The Eatwell Plate is the UK’s official model of a balanced diet with different sections for various types of foods. Red meat sits within the “Meat, fish, eggs and beans” section which should make up 12% of our daily food by weight. Red meat is defined as beef, veal, pork and lamb, which is fresh, minced or frozen.

Rich in nutrients

Red meat naturally contains high quality protein, as well as important vitamins and minerals for health. Red meat, depending on the type and cut, can be a source of iron, zinc, potassium, magnesium, selenium and B vitamins, such as vitamins B6 and B12.

In addition, more than a quarter of the vitamin D in our diets comes from red meat, making it a very useful source of the sunshine vitamin.

All these nutrients come in a healthy package as red meat is now up to 30% lower in fat than it was in the 1950s. This is due to improvements in animal breeding and feeding, as well as more skilful butchers. Grilled sirloin steak now contains less than 8% fat while roast pork leg contains less than 6% fat. Surprisingly, a 100g portion of cooked red meat can ve less than 200 calories while a similar amount of grilled, farmed salmon would be 240 calories.

What Popeye didn’t know

Red meat is the most important source of haem iron in the diet. This type of iron is three times better absorbed than the iron found in spinach and other plant sources. Eating red meat with other sources of iron may help boost their absorption. So Popeye would have been better off having a juicy steak with his greens!

Do we need meat?

The National Diet and Nutrition Survey shows that many people’s diets are too low in certain nutrients. Women, young children, teenagers and elderly people are the groups most at risk from inadequate intakes of vitamin A, vitamin D, iron, magnesium, zinc, selenium and potassium. In addition, iron deficiency remains a problem affecting around one in ten women and girls.


Red meat remains an important part of a healthy, balanced diet as it is a key source of iron, zinc, B vitamins and potassium. Lean cuts of meat are now lower in fat and calories than ever before thanks to farming improvements. Despite media headlines, government experts are clear how much meat we should be eating – that is up to 70g per day. With average intakes now at 71g, most people can continue to enjoy red meat at current levels.

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