All or nothing – or something in between? Moderation’s back, and it never left the building

Warm Lamb, Carrot & Beetroot Salad.jpg

If you love a succulent piece of beef or lamb you may be really confused at the moment. Who wouldn’t be? You’re probably hearing the constant narrative to reduce the amount of red meat you’re eating for health and environmental reasons. But, if your preference is to keep red meat on the plate, and if you consider how much you’re currently eating, the question is how much is enough and should you reduce the amount at all?

For many, it’s just all too hard. Who has the time to trawl through all those often conflicting meaty headlines, when it’s simpler to gravitate to the familiar and eat as we usually do.

Earlier this week new findings came out with a guideline suggesting there’s no need to reduce red meat consumption for health reasons at all – the complete opposite to what the headlines have been saying for some time. More confusion spun for many. This recently published report got media and nutrition academics in a frenzy as it concluded that although there were some health benefits with decreasing meat intake, the benefits were so small and the evidence too weak to suggest taking red meat off the plate and they recommended adults continue their current moderate red and processed meat intake. The strengths and limitations of the report are acknowledged, however, one of the criticisms of the report is it only considered the health outcomes of reducing meat consumption, and environment or animal welfare were not included.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand believe it’s good news for red meat eaters and the industry to see research questioning the causal effect of meat consumption on health outcomes, especially as this particular research considered dietary preferences and health-related values. This may generate future research on this topic

Human nutrition is a continuously evolving, relatively new science so advice can change over time. Take eggs as an example. The initial recommendation to limit the number of eggs you eat no longer holds, as more recent evidence suggests we can now happily enjoy our eggs regularly (1-2 a day as part of a healthy diet for most people and limited to 6-7 for those at increased risk of heart disease). No one food should be demonised and nutrition scientists should always keep questioning current thinking – it’s often the first science lesson at high school - create a hypothesis.

However, what is frustrating and it was very apparent this week, is the constant portrayal of red meat in the form of greasy burger patties nestled in white bread buns, barbecues straight out of the Flintstones groaning with huge amounts of char-grilled meat and dinner plates showing huge steak portions. Why can’t we be shown something closer aligned to what we mean when we talk about red meat-eating in New Zealand homes - a plate with a sensible serving of beautifully barbequed lean steak alongside a generous salad, or a roast lamb dinner with plenty of veges and greens, or even a healthy beef stir-fry. Yet the images the public are shown, are, for the most part, the extreme end of meat-eating creating the portrayal of all or nothing. We get that the carnivore vs plant-based eating argument makes good headlines but the reality is the majority of New Zealanders are omnivores who enjoy both plant and animal foods.  On there are many healthy and delicious options to include nutrient-packed, red meat into a well-balanced diet – perhaps we give our media friends some of our beautiful images to consider using next time

So in answer to confused omnivores on how much meat should we be eating? Consider balance, meat is just one of the many protein choices available, albeit a delicious choice (of course we’d say that), so including New Zealand grass-fed beef and lamb on your plate 3-4 times a week (up to 500g cooked meat a week) allows opportunities to enjoy other animal and plant-based proteins alongside plenty of wholegrains and vegetables, all in moderate but let’s not forget tasty, amounts. And if those that choose to keep red meat on the plate all ate to these guidelines, our planet would also benefit.