Oh steak, decadent and sanguineous blubber of the gods, where would we be without you? Healthy, apparently. At least, that's according to a new study from Oxford University, which claims eating just one steak a week can increase the chance of bowel cancer by 42 per cent. The study - one of the largest of its kind, collecting data from a pool of some 500,000 middle-aged steak-philes - measured a typical portion of red meat as 70g, considered the average steak to be 284g (the equivalent of four portions) and - here's the kicker - recommended just one portion of the most delicious food on the planet, per week. R.I.P Steak Night. It's certainly been a bad week for meat.
Last month the World Health Organisation warned processed meat was as big a cancer threat as cigarettes, asbestos and arsenic, all but putting the final nail in bacon's coffin. I, for one, however refuse to lower my fork and step away from my steak knife. Instead, in the foolhardy name of balance - and meat-addled dedication to juicy, bouncy, luscious rump - I enlisted the help of nutritionist Charlotte Stirling-Reed and went in search of the health benefits of red meat. And - thank god - I found some. Buy me a steak sometime.
Red meat is packed full of protein and iron
"Meat is high in both protein and iron," says Stirling-Reed of SR Nutrition and a fellow of the Association for Nutrition. "As a number of groups in the UK have low intakes of iron, red meat can play a beneficial role in reducing the risk of iron deficiency anaemia." Believe it or not, some estimates suggest two thirds of the human population are deficient in iron. Conversely, beef has the highest concentrations of iron over other commonly consumed meat such as pork or chicken - and this isn't any old iron. Red meat contains heme iron, which is absorbed and put to work much more efficiently than the non-heme iron found in green vegetables. And the iron alone is reason enough for pregnant women to chow down on a rib eye, as iron is vital for the growth and development of the fetal brain. Protein is also a key player in a healthy body; muscle mass, the production of antibodies and the immune system all benef from a meaty dose of Mr Meat.
Other key nutrients
"Red meat can play a role in a balanced diet. It contains a number of beneficial nutrients and is a source of B vitamins, vitamin D, selenium and zinc," says Stirling-Reed. Let's cover the Bs first. Vitamin B12 is vital fodder for the protection of pretty much all the major structural and functional body systems, from things like neurological disorders, cardiovascular disease, infertility and even cancer. Furthermore, red meat is a rich source of other B vitamins including thiamin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, folate, niacin, and vitamin B6. Other key nutrients include vitamin D, which protects against rickets, a degenerative bone disease caused by vitamin D deficiency; selenium, a lesser known nutrient which is critical to the human antioxidant defense system; and zinc, essential for many maintenance jobs including strengthening the immune system and boasting a healthy brain (think of zinc as the janitor of the body.) As with iron, when consumed via red meat, all of these nutrients are highly 'bioavailable' meaning that it's easier for the body to break them down than if they were delivered via other food sources.
Don't forget the fat
Red meat certainly beats white meat when it comes to levels of vitamin B12, iron and zinc but red meat's fatty profile also packs a healthy punch, boasting equal amounts of saturated and monounsaturated fat - the latter the same heart-friendly fat that's found in olive oil and the cornerstone of the much-idolized Mediterranean diet. A 2012 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also revealed that eating lean beef actually improved cholesterol levels and reduced the risk of heart disease. Boom.
It's not like other foods are better anyway
Yes the NHS might stipulate that we should all have our five a day, gobbling down 25g of fiber in the shape of apples and aubergines in the fight against obesity, heart disease and bowel cancer. However, the Oxford study found no significant link between high fiber consumption and decreased bowel cancer risk. So - take that vegetables.
Everything in moderation
"People who want to continue eating red meat, there is no problem with doing so," Stirling-Reed concludes. "It's essential to look however at the amount you're consuming. Opt for a few 'meatless' days each week, watch the portion sizes you're having at each meal and swap some of your meat-based proteins for plant-based alternatives such as beans and pulses."
The writer is an online activist. The write-up has appeared on www.telegraph.co.uk
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