This post came following new advice from the World Health Organisation’s around the links between red meat and cancer.
Although the statistics sounded worrying (“processed meat as bad as smoking!”), when reported correctly, the evidence showed that for every 100g daily serving of red meat, the increase in risk of developing bowel cancer only went from around 6% to 7% – similar to the level of risk linked with being carrying too much body fat or not exercising.
More importantly, only around 24% of men and 9% of women were consuming this level – with most of us consuming far less.
Despite this, there’s still LOTS of confusion around red meat, and I regularly get asked how much red meat is too much, and what a portion looks like.
If you feel confused, rest assured you’re not alone – surveys show 85% of UK adults underestimate how much meat they can eat within healthy guidelines (a maximum of 500g of cooked meat a week – about 70 grams a day, the UK average!)
This means lots of us are probably avoiding red meat thinking that we’re consuming too much, which is a shame because red meat is a great source of protein, iron and zinc. Around a third of adult women aren’t getting enough iron, so learning what counts in terms of portion sizes is important.
To help make things a little clearer I’ve teamed up with the Meat Advisory Panel to talk portion sizes.
Go Palm Sized for Portions
Split the recommended weekly maximum (500 grams cooked meat) by 7 days and you get 70 grams a day. The Meat Advisory Panel aren’t suggesting you eat meat every day (in fact, they are working on a 5 A WEEK campaign leaving room for meat free meals), but it’s a helpful way to think about portion sizes.
So if a portion of red meat is around 70 grams – what does that look like? One easy way to assess portion size is to use the palm of your hand. A typical 70g portion is roughly what would fit into the palm of an adult’s hand.
This is also handy because our palms grow with age, and we can use this to adjust how much red meat we should be consuming at a particular time. A child with a smaller palm than their mum can eat the same spaghetti Bolognese portion size using their palm.
To give a bit more context, 70g of cooked red meat is equal to…
- A palm size chop or steak
- 3 slices of back bacon
- 5 or 6 cubes of meat in casserole
- 1 and a half standard sausages
- 4 to 5 meat balls
Bear in mind that the sausages and bacon count as processed meats.
I use more than this!
If your portion sizes are bigger then you can simply count it as two portions together – so a steak might end up being two serves (around 150g, equal to a 5 oz steak). This would mean you’d be able to include 3 more ‘portions’ that week and still be within the guideline.
The other option is to make your meat servings a little smaller and bulk them out with pulses and veggies – black beans work great in chilli and lentils are fab in bolognese.
Hopefully this has settled some of the fear around red meat – and given you a better idea of what counts as a portion – and how much you can eat as part of the guidelines.