As many ads on TV proudly declare: ‘Red meat: we were meant to eat it’. But with such a strong link between meat and ill health, how much is too much?
Australians eat a lot of meat. In fact, we are the biggest consumers of meat on earth, according to statistics from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). While the average amount of meat eaten annually per person worldwide is about 30kg, Aussies manage to consume slightly more than three times that amount – closer to 93kg per year! That’s much more than is deemed healthy.
In Australia, our culture of being meat eaters has developed over many generations. We are lucky to have access to good quality meat at prices that are relatively cheaper than those of other countries.
The link between meat and health is tenuous. The World Health Organisation (WHO) classifies meat (beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse and goat) as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”. In 2015, WHO also declared that processed meats, including sausage, salami, ham, bacon, and even steak cause cancer.
On the other hand, meat is an excellent source of essential nutrients, such as a protein, iron, zinc and many vitamins, which the body needs to function well. However, these nutrients can also be found in non-meat foods, such as tofu, nuts, seeds, legumes, beans and some vegetables.
From a health perspective, a little meat is okay for you. But how do you know if you’re eating too much?
Australian dietary guidelines recommend that you eat one to three serves of foods from the protein-rich group per day, depending on your age. Women who are menstruating or pregnant, and children as well, should typically eat more. This doesn’t mean you should eat three serves of meat per day, however. Variety is the key. Over one week, you should aim to eat a maximum seven serves of lean red meat.
Portion size also matters. Most Australians eat larger portions of meat than is recommended. The recommended portion size for you will depend on a variety of factors, including age, gender and lifestyle. However, as a general rule, a standard serve (500–600kJ) of protein should weigh:
- lean red meat – 65g
- lean poultry – 80g
- fish fillet/can of fish – 100g
- eggs – 120g
- legumes/beans – 150g
- tofu – 170g
- nuts and seeds – 30g.
For more information, head to eatforhealth.gov.au.