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Keywords:

  • diet quality;
  • health;
  • lifespan;
  • micronutrients;
  • red meat

Summary

In recent years, there has been controversy about the healthiness of red meat, prompting suggestions that people should limit their consumption. However, national dietary surveys indicate that UK diets can be low in nutrients typically found in red meat, e.g. vitamin B2, vitamin D, iron, magnesium, zinc, selenium and potassium, particularly among low-income groups, teenagers and females. This article examines the nutritional challenges from infanthood to old age and considers whether there is still a role for red meat in helping people to achieve their dietary requirements. The fossil record indicates that early man evolved as an omnivore, with meat representing a significant source of protein and nutrients in the prehistoric diet. Modern diets offer substantially more variation in protein sources yet the range of nutrients supplied by red meat and their high bioavailability may make meat particularly suitable for human diets. Studies suggest that low intakes of red meat are a marker for iron insufficiency, while inclusion of red meat in the diet is associated with higher mineral intakes. Moderate amounts of lean red meat provide a wide range of important nutrients, without substantially increasing intakes of energy and saturated fatty acids. While concerns have been raised about the potential impact of red meat on the risk of chronic disease, the data are mostly observational and may be confounded by cooking methods or other dietary factors. In conclusion, integrating red meat into diets across the age spectrum, from infanthood to old age, may help to narrow the present gap between micronutrient intakes and recommendations.