Meat contains about 20-23 per cent protein and varying amounts of fat (5-30 per cent). However, the nature of fat differs. Red meat fat is more saturated than poultry fat, while the fat in fish is primarily unsaturated in the form of fish oil. Meat is an excellent source of B-complex vitamins, vitamin B12, niacin, zinc and bio-available heme iron a form of iron which is far more readily absorbed compared to iron found in plant foods.
For women and teenage girls who suffer from anaemia, lean red meat may be an important source of iron. Meat protein is high quality i.e. it provides all the essential amino acids that cannot be made by the body. Meat is also a source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a group of fatty acids that are found in milk and milk products and ruminant animals. CLAs have been found to be useful in reducing cholesterol and body fat, and in addition, may possess potentially anti-carcinogenic properties.
Despite its impressive nutritional benefits, meat eating has been associated with heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Substantial evidence from recent studies showed that lean red meat trimmed of visible fat does not raise blood cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Infact, it is low in saturated fat, and if consumed as a part of a healthy diet, is associated with reductions in LDL (bad) cholesterol in individuals with high and normal cholesterol levels.
Scientific evidence increasingly suggests that lean red meat is a healthy and beneficial component of any well balanced diet as long as it is fat trimmed and consumed as a part of a varied diet.
As is well known the dose makes the poison. People who experience increased risk of colon cancer are those who consume more than 250 gm of red meat everyday. The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the American Dietetic Association (ADA) recommend limiting red meat consumption to 250 gm a week.
The quality of meat and its processing also counts. Scientific evidence reveals that processed meat such as sausages, bacon and salami increase risk of bowel cancer more than red meat. They are not only high on fats but also contain potentially carcinogenic (cancer causing) components such as nitrites.
It is recommended that cured or processed meats be eaten as a condiment or flavouring with foods rather than as a main dish. Organ meats such as liver and kidney are relatively low in fat but high on cholesterol, and should not be eaten more than once a month.
Among red meats, lamb stands out for its high nutritional value. Lamb is obtained from young animals less than 14 months of age. Sheep/goat beyond two years of age is sold as mutton. It is darker in colour, stronger in flavour and less tender. Meats from shoulder, shank and neck are leaner compared to the breast. Since much of its fat is on the outside of the meat, it can be trimmed before cooking.
How to eat your red meat
* Quantity: No more than 250 gm a week, with little or no bones
* Quality: Best option is lamb that is pinkish-red in colour, fine grained. But smooth cut surfaces of the flesh
* Avoid: Processed meats such as sausages, bacon, salami
* Eat only once a month: Liver and kidneys
* Cooking: Dont fry, barbeque or charcoal grill the meat. Preferably bake roast or broil. Marinating with herbs such as ginger, garlic and turmeric reduces formation of harmful compounds
* Eat: As a condiment or flavouring rather than the main dish