Infants and children are at risk from low intakes of meat-based nutrients such as iron, zinc and vitamin D according to the findings of a new study commissioned by the Meat Advisory Panel (MAP). This new study : Does red meat have a role in young children’s diets? shows that red meat can make a significant contribution to intakes of these key nutrients in childhood . In this context, the authors of this research, Dr Carrie Ruxton, independent dietitian and Emma Derbyshire, Senior Lecturer in Human Nutrition, Manchester Metropolitan University, recommend that red meat should be included within a healthy balanced diet from weaning onwards.

Lean red meat provides a range of important nutrients for toddlers and children, yet in recent years red meat has been under the spotlight. It has been linked to negative health issues and adults who consume over 90g of cooked meat per day have been advised by SACN to reduce their intake to around 70g per day – in line with the majority of the population. This latest research shows just how important red meat can be in supplying essential nutrients which can be worrying low in toddlers and children.

The study, which evaluated UK dietary surveys of infants and children, found that the diets of infants and pre-school children were low in iron, zinc, vitamin A and vitamin D, often failing to meet the lowest dietary requirements of these essential nutrients, all of which are provided by red meat.

Commenting on the research, independent dietitian and a member of MAP, Dr Carrie Ruxton, says: “Nutrient requirements are relatively high during infancy and childhood due to the rapid rates of growth and development in this age group. Yet our research showed that requirements for micronutrients such as iron, zinc, vitamin A and vitamin D are simply not being met in young children. In this context it is important to note that red meat is a highly bioavailable source of essential nutrients. In young children, a serving of red meat can make a considerable contribution to the intake of iron and zinc as well as that of protein.”

“Including red meat in the diet after weaning can help to bridge these nutrient gaps and so help to maintain good health through childhood and beyond. Emerging research suggests that including red meat in the weaning diet may relate to improved health outcomes such as reduced obesity and better cognitive development.”

In summary, Dr Carrie Ruxton notes: “Nutrients in red meat have important roles in childhood growth and development. Vitamin A is required for eye function and immune health, zinc for growth and iron for brain development. A lack of these nutrients in early childhood may prejudice health in ways that cannot be compensated for in later life. Red meat should therefore be included within a healthy, balanced diet from weaning onwards.”

Is there a role for red meat in young children?

Brief study summary of nutrient intake in infants and pre-school children

Findings from key reports suggest that pre-school children did not meet the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) for energy, and average intakes are below the Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) for vitamins A and D and iron. One study found that the diets of 18-month-old infants are low in vitamin D, iron and zinc. Similar findings came from a study involving infants aged 12 months.

Findings from the latest NDNS show that among children aged 4-10 years old, 3% boys and 5% girls had inadequate vitamin A intakes, while 4% of boys and 10% of girls had inadequate zinc intakes. In girls only, 1-3% fell below the LRNI for iron, calcium, magnesium, selenium and iodine. For vitamin D, there is currently no RNI for children aged over 3 years so the European Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of 5 μg  is a useful reference. Compared with this, average intakes in 4-10 year olds (1.9μg) were only 38% of the RDA. Vitamin D insufficiency is widespread amongst UK children, and there is a higher risk of deficiency in ethnic minority children.

Infants and toddlers have high nutrient demands - vitamin A is needed for eye function and immune health, zinc for growth, and iron and iodine for brain neurone development. Also, certain nutrients such as iron and zinc may be limited after weaning, and obesity worries may lead mothers to use low-fat foods that also have lower levels of fat-soluble vitamins.

For more information about the role of red meat and a selection of versatile recipes using pork, beef and lamb visit

The role of red meat in the diet

Red meat - defined as beef, veal, pork and lamb, which is fresh, minced or frozen – contains high biological value protein and is a source of important micronutrients that support good health throughout life. Beef and lamb are classified as a ‘rich source’ – more than 30% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) - of vitamin B3 (niacin), B12 (cyanocobalamin) and zinc. It is also a ‘source’ – 15% or more of the RDA - of iron, potassium and phosphorous. Pork is also classified as a ‘rich source’ of vitamin B1 (thiamin). Meat, particularly from grass-fed animals, can be a valuable source of long chain (LC) n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) such as omega 3 fatty acids. Research shows that LC n-3 PUFA supports normal foetal development as well as being is associated with a lower risk of inflammatory conditions, depression and dementia in later life.

Red meat is also a vital source of haem iron, the type that is readily absorbed. Red meat also helps in the absorption of non-haem iron from plant and vegetable sources. Dietary surveys show that average iron intakes in young children in the UK are lacking.

Editor’s notes

Notes to editors:

1. Dr Ruxton is a member of the Meat Advisory Panel, an independent advisory body funded by an unrestricted educational grant from Meat is co funded by Beef and Lamb New Zealand, BPEX, Bord Bia, Danish Agriculture and Food Council, EBLEX and Livestock and Meat Commission for Northern Ireland.  For further information, see The content of this article reflects the opinion of the authors.

2. For more information about the role of red meat and a selection of versatile recipes using pork, beef and lamb visit or contact:

Megan Fell:       0207 052 8854

Lisa Bronstein:  0207 052 8856

Nicky Smith:     0207 052 8850

Does red meat have a role in young children’s diets? Complete Nutrition; Dr Carrie Ruxton, independent dietitian and Emma Derbyshire, Senior Lecturer in Human Nutrition, Manchester Metropolitan University September 2012.

Note: while contributing only modestly to fat and sodium intakes