Blanket health messages to lower red meat intakes could have adverse implications on the micronutrient quality of women’s diets, particularly intakes of iron and zinc, according to a new study published by Dr Emma Derbyshire in the Journal Nutrients.

Women’s red meat intakes on a downturn

Findings from the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey show that there are sizeable gaps in red meat intakes between UK males and females.  On average women aged 19 to 64 years old eat just 47 grams of total red meat daily.  In contrast, UK males of a similar age eat 84 grams of total red meat per day.  So that’s nearly twice the amount of women!  It also appears that women’s red meat intakes are on a downturn.  These have dropped from 58g to 47g per day since the last survey 4 years ago.  Clean eating, veganism and plant-based trends are expected to further spiral red meat intakes downwards.

Is this healthy?

Well, not necessarily.  Lean red meat is a valuable source of nutrients including good quality protein, absorbable iron, B vitamins and zinc.  We also know that UK women have iron shortfalls.  In the last UK dietary survey almost half the girls aged 11 to 18 years (48%), and more than a quarter (27%) of females aged 19 to 64 were not reaching the Lower Reference Nutrient Intake (LRNI; the level below which deficiencies may occur) for iron, placing them at risk of iron deficiency and anaemia.

Research published in the Nutrients journal modelled the effects of red meat reduction and how this could impact on UK women’s diet quality.  It was revealed that if the downward trend continues and women eat less than 40g total red meat daily they are  more likely to have micronutrient shortfalls for zinc, iron, vitamin B12, potassium and lower vitamin D intakes.

So, it is apparent that encouraging all population groups to eat less red meat is clearly not the way forward.  In some vulnerable population groups, such as women this could even exacerbate nutrient shortfalls.  Cutting back on red meat appears to impact on women’s zinc intakes in particular. Continued research is worthy of further exploration in this important area of work.  However, guidance to ‘cut-back’ on read meat should be put into clearer context and targeted more specifically towards those who are ‘over consuming’.

For more information, see: Derbyshire, EJ (2017) Nutrients Vol.9, 768.

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