How much meat is enough?

The requirements surrounding meat consumption are blurred by today’s ever-expanding diet culture. The most popular fad diets have opposing views of the role of meat in our diet. Diets such as keto and paleo emphasise high meat consumption, whilst plant-based and vegan diets occupy the other end of the meat-eating spectrum.

What is meat?

The term “meat” includes red meats (such as beef and lamb), poultry (including chicken and turkey) and seafood. Eggs and meat alternatives, such as legumes, nuts and seeds are also included in the same core food group as meat under the Australian Dietary Guidelines, as these foods tend to have similar nutritional profiles to meat.

What are the benefits of meat consumption?

Meat is an essential part of our diet as it provides us with protein and essential nutrients such as iron, zinc, iodine, essential fatty acids and B12. These nutrients help to support the immune system, brain function, cell growth and repair, hormone production and heart health, just to name a few.

Plant-based options can provide similar nutritional benefits however the zinc, iron and B12 aren’t absorbed as efficiently  and the protein is often incomplete (does not contain all the essential amino acids). Therefore, those following vegan or vegetarian diets need to carefully plan their diets  to ensure they are meeting all their nutritional requirements. For example, combining legumes with foods high in vitamin C can maximise iron absorption, whilst consuming a wide variety of meat alternatives across the week will ensure your body is obtaining all the essential amino acids it needs to function well.

Why is too much meat a bad thing?

Despite the benefits of meat, consuming the wrong types or excessive quantities of meat can have a negative influence on our health (as well as our wallet).  For example, fattier cuts of meat or processed options such as salami are quite high in saturated fat which can contribute to the development and progression of heart disease.  More processed options are also commonly high in salt and preservatives and the consumption of which in large amounts has been linked to an increased risk of bowel and stomach cancers. The over consumption of meat, as with any other food, can also contribute to an excessive energy intake and therefore be a contributing factor to unwanted weight gain.  So it is important to understand the portion sizes that we require.

How much meat should we eat?

It is important to strike the correct balance to ensure we are meeting all of our protein and micronutrient requirements whilst minimising any negative effects on our health by consuming too much. Australians tend to over consume meat in general. In fact, Australians are responsible for the second highest meat consumption of developed countries, with approximately 110kg of meat on average consumed per person, per year. This means that the average Australian consumes roughly 300g per day!

So, how much meat do we actually need?

One serve of cooked meat equates to one of the following:

  • 80g of poultry
  • 65g of red meat
  • 100g of fish/seafood
  • 1 cup of legumes

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommends the following number of servings of meat (or alternatives) per day:

  • 2.5 serves for females aged 19-50 and 2 for those aged 51-70+
  • 3 serves for males aged 19-50 and 2.5 for those aged 51-70+
  • 2.5 to 3 serves for pregnant women
  • 1 to 2.5 serves for children and adolescents, depending on their age.

How can we optimise our meat intake?

Here are some tips for ensuring our meat consumption is beneficial to our health:

  • Choose lean cuts of meat (e.g. trimmed steak or skinless chicken)
  • Remove the skin and excess fat from meat and poultry before cooking
  • Cook meat without large amounts of added fat
  • Choose low fat mince, also labelled as “heart smart” or “extra lean”
  • Avoid highly processes meat, such as deli meats and sausages
  • Include plant-based alternatives on a regular basis
  • Use spices and herbs to flavour meat, rather than butter or large quantities of cooking oil