So far the dietary changes I’ve recommended to help you eat healthy on a budget have been pretty standard. Most people are aware that too much alcohol and junk food isn’t good for you. However, fewer people are aware of the dangers to too much red and processed meat. I often see clients who have some form of red or processed meat every day, sometimes with every meal! Bacon with breakfast, a ham sandwich for lunch, spaghetti bolognaise for dinner – it’s all red meat. If you are serious about your long term health, you need to eat less red and processed meat.
Red meat is anything that comes from an animal that walks on four feet – beef, pork, lamb, venison, etc. Processed meats are anything that has been smoked, cured, salted or has added preservatives. This includes foods like bacon, sausages, ham, pate, and deli meats (such as pepperoni or turkey slices for sandwiches). While processing makes these foods last much longer and taste great, all the extra salt and chemicals are really bad for us.
We have known for decades that a diet high in red and processed meats raises the risk of heart disease and certain cancers. However, recent studies have shown a clear dose response relationship – the more meat you eat, the higher your risk of getting cardiovascular disease, cancer and dying young1. There is a particularly strong link between processed meat intake and certain cancers2. What’s more, eating more red and processed meat is associated with weight gain over time, especially dangerous fat around your middle3. It is now recommended we get no more than two servings of processed meats per week.
Cost is another reason to cut down on red meat. A quick browse through the grocery store shows that most beef mince is at least £6.50/Kg, with steak starting at £8.00/Kg. On the other hand, you can get chicken breasts for £5.50/Kg. Processed meats may be cheaper, but that’s because most of them contain less actual meat. Take Richmond brand sausages – they contain 14g of protein per 100g of grilled sausage. On the other hand, cod contains 18g of protein per 100g, and chicken breasts over 24g of protein for 100g of meat.
The longest living populations in the world eat very little red meat. Instead their diets tend to be high in fish, shellfish and vegetarian sources of protein, like tofu and lentils. Pulses (like beans and lentils) are high in vitamins, minerals and fibre. Fish and shellfish are high in Omega 3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation, the root cause of many diseases. When these people do eat meat, it tends to be poultry or small portions of very lean cuts of beef, pork or lamb (not fatty sausages).
So many things in nutrition are complex and depend on each person’s individual situation. But this is not. Eating less red and processed meat has clear health benefits for everyone and can save you significant money.
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Diallo A et al. Red and processed meat intake and cancer risk: Results from the prospective NutriNet-Santé cohort study. Int J Cancer. 2018 Jan 15;142(2):230-237. doi: 10.1002/ijc.31046. Epub 2017 Oct 16.
Wang X et al.Red and processed meat consumption and mortality: dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Public Health Nutr. 2016 Apr;19(5):893-905. doi: 10.1017/S1368980015002062. Epub 2015 Jul 6.
Konieczna J et al. Longitudinal association of changes in diet with changes in body weight and waist circumference in subjects at high cardiovascular risk: the PREDIMED trial. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2019 Dec 27;16(1):139. doi: 10.1186/s12966-019-0893-3.