Is meat good for health? - CALIFORNIA HEALTH

Is meat good for health?


Is meat good for health?

is meat good for health?

We have all heard news in the media about the need to cut down meat. If you haven’t, you are hearing now. But meat comes in different shapes and forms. Health-wise, some experts categorise meat into white and red meat, and the general consensus is that white meat is better for our health than red meat. And there is processed meat which is the worst kind of meat. 

Although categorising meat into white and red is complex and sometimes inconsistent, generally the meat from chicken, turkey, duck, game birds and rabbit are seen as white meat because of their pale colour before and after cooking. Red meat usually refer to meat from most four-legged land animals such as beef, pork, venison, goat, horse, lamb and mutton. 

What is meat?

Even the definition of meat is inconsistent. The most consistent and simple definition of meat is the flesh of animals which is consumed as food. So from that technical standpoint, fish which is the meat of an animal called fish is meat. And fish would be part of white meat, which is supposed to be good for us. Indeed, among all meats, fish is the best for general health partly because it contains good fats especially oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and the rest which give us omeg-3 fats to protect our heart. Although some popular fishes such as tilapia and sea bass are not considered oily fish because of the low levels of omega-3 fats, they are still healthier alternatives to other meat as they contain less saturated fats.

In terms of health, whilst oily fish has good evidence of being good for heart health, poultry and other white meat seem to be relatively neutral to long term health. And that is a good thing because we can still consume these white meat options to get our proteins and other nutrients without the worry of possible harm that are generally associated with red meat. And if you replace your red meat with white meat, bingo! You are reducing your risk.

How red and processed meat affect health

So what is it with red meat? The latest report from the World Health Organisation shows that eating more red meat is associated with certain types of cancers especially colorectal cancer but also pancreatic and prostate cancers. Red meat has also been associated with increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and strokes. Why are red meats associated with these conditions? Well, they have also been associated with specific risk factors such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels which would explain their effect on increasing the risk of heart diseases and strokes, and chemicals in red meat such as haem iron have been associated with how insulin works which explains the risk of Type 2 diabetes. For cancers, it is explained that chemicals formed when meat is cooked or processed such as N-nitroso are carcinogenic. This is serious but it does not mean one cannot eat red meat. What is means is that have less and you reduce your risk. And if you have any of these serious health conditions in your immediate family, you have even more incentive to have less red meat.

The definition of processed meat is again tricky but includes any meat (white or red) that has undergone any process to enhance its flavour or to preserve it for longer. This includes any meat that has been salted, smoked, fermented or cured. Most processed meat contain red meat particularly pork or beef but a few may contain white meat such as poultry. Examples of processed meat are sausages, hot dogs, bacon, salami, luncheon meat corned beef and any canned meat.


Processed meats are worst for health because whiles carrying all the risk associated with red meat, their relationship with certain diseases especially cancers is deemed causal (i.e. stronger, well-established and categorical). This mean eating less red meat is a good advice but cutting out processed meat from the diet is an even more prudent measure. Most processed meat also contain more salt which is not great for your blood pressure.  

There is also the question of the best way to cook meat. There is some evidence that cooking meat at high temperature especially when the meat is in direct contact with a flame or hot surface such as during barbecuing or pan-frying leads to production of more chemicals that are associated with cancers. This means you are better off boiling in a soup, or steaming which all eliminated the issue of direct contact to the flame. Although, deep-frying eliminates the direct contact to the flame or hot surface, oil has higher boiling point than water so cooking in pure oil would generally be at a higher temperature than cooking in water. This makes deep-frying meat less healthy compared to boiling water or soup.  

How much red and processed meat is good for health?

So how much red or processed meat is safe? The general rule is the less red and processed meat the better. General recommendation is not to exceed 70g of red and processed meat a day which is about the size of a packed playing cards. But my advice about eating meat is that eat more fish especially oily fish. At the very least, try and have a portion of oily fish once a week and at least a portion of other fish such as tilapia once a week. This could be in a soup, stew or grilled with banku and hot pepper. Because chicken, turkey and other white meats seem relatively neutral to long-term health, eat more of these in place of red meat. And limit how often you eat red meat as well as the amounts you eat when you do eat them. We know that red meat provide protein, B-vitamins and iron, especially for those who may have iron deficiency because the iron in red meat is more absorbable.

Having iron deficiency can be serious as it may result in fatigue, shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness or anaemia. However, you can still get good amounts of protein and iron from alternative sources such as white meat, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds, eggs, and green leafy vegetables. 

Dougie’s tip: Putting all these into context, you can structure your 7-day week to eat fish 2-3 days a week, poultry 2-3 days a week and perhaps red meat 1-2 days a week. And you could try a few meat free days a week where you really on beans and lentils for your protein. Beans are cheaper too.

BOOK AN APPOINTMENT to speak to a personal dietitian who can guide you through your options. We’ll help you find practical ways to cutting down red and processed to improve your health.