Meating the health needs of the nation

Survey reveals misconceptions about meat is leaving Britons at risk of health problems

A survey, undertaken by the Meat Advisory Panel, into people’s perceptions of red meat and its  nutritive value  has revealed that there is a lack of understanding and a number of misconceptions about red meat and its role in our diets.

The survey also revealed that a number of respondents were unsure which meats were classified as “red meat”. Less than half (47%) of 2,000 respondents to the Meat Advisory Panel survey correctly named pork as a type of red meat and one in five (22%) did not realise that lamb is also classed as a red meat. But, with age comes better culinary knowledge. Almost all (98%) of those over 55 identified beef as a red meat, compared with 82% of 18 to 24-year-olds.

Professor Robert Pickard, member of the Meat Advisory Panel says: “Lean red meat is a valuable source of iron and vitamin D, not to mention protein, zinc and other important nutrients. But unfortunately far too many people appear to be losing sight of the importance of meat within a healthy diet.

“This gap in knowledge could have a detrimental impact on our health; a lack of iron can lead to anemia, whilst a lack of vitamin D is putting people at risk of bone problems, including osteomalacia in adults. Some research suggests that not getting enough vitamin D may also be linked to heart conditions,diabetes, asthma and cognitive impairment in older adults.”

M-eating habits

When asked about their red meat eating habits two out of three (65%) of those surveyed believe red meat is an important part of a healthy diet; almost half (47%) tuck into a red-meat meal between one and four times a week. Twenty two percent of men are the most likely to eat meat every day, compared with 15% of women.

Beef is the most popular red meat, with 64% of respondents placing it among their top three favourite meats, followed by pork (47%). Brits also love a bacon butty, with almost three out of four (72%) enjoying bacon at least once a week.

Essential nutrients

When it comes to our health, low levels of both iron and vitamin D are common within UK population groups and can lead to a range of health-related problems. The Meat Advisory Panel survey found that we routinely underestimate the importance of red meat in delivering these vital nutrients. Almost half (49%) of those questioned wrongly believe that spinach is a better source of iron than red meat, whilst more than one in five (23%) thought they were equally good. Just one in six (15%) correctly rated red meat as a superior source of iron.

More worrying, the survey found that only 8% of women — fewer than one in ten — were aware of their greater need for dietary iron. Almost half (44%) assumed they required the same amount as men and one in five (20%) had no idea whether there were any gender differences.

Dr Carrie Ruxton, dietitian and member of the Meat Advisory Panel says: “Red meat is one of the best sources of easily absorbed iron and it is particularly important for women to understand the value of including beef, pork or lamb as a regular part of their diets.

“Low iron levels can lead to a host of niggling health problems including tiredness, poor concentration, headaches, feeling short of breath, irritability and dizziness. Symptoms are easily overlooked, but other warning signs include pale skin, brittle nails, cracked lips, muscle pain and feeling the cold.”

Awareness of vitamin D was also poor, with more than one in five (22%) wrongly asserting that green leafy vegetables provide some vitamin D when, in fact, they contain none and almost one in ten (7%) claimed citrus fruits, which are also devoid of D, are a source of the vitamin. However, 12% correctly listed red meat as a useful source of vitamin D.

Lack of knowledge surrounding food sources of Vitamin D is concerning, as there is growing evidence that vitamin D plays an important role in maintaining the immune system. Studies have linked low blood levels to an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and auto-immune conditions, such as multiple sclerosis .

Professor Pickard adds, “We are only just beginning to learn how important vitamin D is for long term health and there is now good evidence that it may have a role in protecting against common killers such as cancer and heart disease. Our climate means that we often can’t make enough from sunshine and many of us have sub-optimal levels, so it is important that we get the most from natural food sources — such as red meat.”


For more information please contact: Lorraine Calvey on [email protected] / 0207 052 8855 Nicky Smith on [email protected] / 0207 052 8850

Editor’s notes: This research was funded by the Meat Advisory Panel, which is supported by an unrestricted grant from the British Pork Executive (BPEX) and the English Beef and Lamb Executive (EBLEX) divisions of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB). The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors alone.