Red meat – BBQ bliss or a health hazard?

Red meat – BBQ bliss or a health hazard?

After a bright and sunny Easter weekend there’s no doubt that, even in these restricted times, many BBQs will have been lit for the first time this year. For those of us lucky enough to have private gardens and outdoor spaces, a BBQ will have been welcome light relief from the time spent stuck inside. When you think of having a BBQ, do you automatically go for the classic BBQ foods – steak, sausages and burgers? But is that a healthy meal for us to be so excited about throughout spring and summer? We’ve all seen the headlines about red meat, and they can leave people confused about what’s safe to eat.

Is red meat really that bad? 

Red meat is full of vitamins and minerals, including selenium which supports the immune system*, plus essential amino acids from protein. But are there any downsides to eating red meat?

A large Swedish study published in 2014 examined the combined association of processed and non-processed meat consumption with survival in Sweden. The cohort included 40,089 Swedish men and 34,556 women. Red meat consumption was assessed through a self-administered questionnaire over a 15 year period. 

One of the most interesting findings was that high and moderate intakes of non-processed red meat were associated with shorter survival only when accompanied by a high intake of processed red meat.

Does this mean our steak is fine but our sausages and burgers are not?

In terms of general health, The World Cancer Research Fund state that we should not exceed 500g cooked weight red meat a week and that we should avoid processed read meat. This is because, when people consumer more than this, the rates of bowel cancer increase. 

The UK government states on the NHS website that both red meat and processed meat should not be consumed in amounts of over 490g a week, and you can save this up for intake on just 1 or 2 days if you want. It’s worth noting that burgers are only classed as ‘processed’ if they have added salt or other preservatives. Perhaps you could make your own burgers from lean steak mince and herbs if you’re hooked on the BBQ burger? Sausages and bacon are always classed as processed meat.

Is there any risk in barbequing meat?

It appears that cooking red meat at high temperatures may lead to the formation of mutagenic and carcinogenic heterocyclic amines. This happens through the interaction of muscle creatinine with amino acids, as well as the formation of N-nitroso compounds from the heam in red meat. All rather complicated language but in short, it’s the very high temperatures you need to be careful about.

Barbequing, frying, grilling, or broiling can potentially induce these changes. The aim is to not overcook red meat on the barbeque! If you burn processed meat (those sausages again…) or heat them to a very high temperature, you may be in for double trouble from a health perspective.

What can we eat?

A little red or processed meat can be incorporated safely into a plant based or traditional Mediterranean-style diet. Enjoy up to 500g non-processed red meat per week, don’t overcook and serve with plenty of colourful salad vegetables, beans and wholegrains! Why not consider a piece of marinated chicken or salmon for your BBQ every now and then? Plus, remember to get sufficient vitamin C from eating fruit and veg, which will help support the immune system*. Take a look at the Altruvita range, carefully formulated to support your health whatever the weather!

* EU REGISTERS ON NUTRITION AND HEALTH CLAIMS

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