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Can red meat be included as part of a heart healthy diet?

The Heart Foundation today released new recommendations on how much red meat and chicken New Zealanders should be eating as part of a heart healthy diet.

Cooked steak on a plate

"The latest evidence shows eating high levels of red meat can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Research shows eating less than 350g of unprocessed red meat a week can reduce this risk. That's about three lean red-meat meals a week," says Heart Foundation Chief Advisor Food and Nutrition, Dave Monro.

It was found that each additional 100g of red meat eaten per day was associated with a 15 per cent higher risk of heart disease and a 12 per cent higher risk of stroke. 

The review of the latest science also showed it’s more heart healthy when red meat is replaced with other plant-based protein options. 

"Red meat can certainly be part of a healthy diet but replacing red meat with alternatives such as beans, chickpeas, soy and nuts has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels - a key risk factor for heart disease." says Dave.

The review found that chicken was neutral for heart health, meaning it doesn't necessarily do harm, but also that it doesn't have the benefits that some of the plant-based options have.

"While chicken is another important protein source in the New Zealand diet, we need to have a variety options in a heart healthy diet and include beans, chickpeas, nuts, seeds, and fish – and foods that have all been shown to help prevent heart disease.

"Heart disease is New Zealand’s single biggest killer. The update of position statements like this one is part of our ongoing commitment to support Kiwis to improve their nutrition, prevent heart disease and improve the quality of life for the 170,000 New Zealanders living with heart disease," says Dave. 

Processed meats, such as ham and sausages, were not included in the review as there is already substantial evidence linking processed meat intake with colorectal cancer.

The review of the evidence was supported by the Heart Foundation's Expert Nutrition Group which include members from the University of Auckland and the University of Otago. The key findings were considered in light of the New Zealand population and went through a comprehensive peer review process.  

The new Heart Foundation position statement is also consistent with advice from the World Cancer Research Fund, and Australian Heart Foundation on red meat and poultry.

Some tips for eating less meat:

  • Start with a meat-free meal: if you don't know where to begin, pick one evening a week and have a meat-free meal.
  • Be inspired by other cultures: Lots of cultures with flavourful foods use vegetarian proteins for their meals. Indian, Sri Lankan or Middle Eastern recipes use lots of beans, peas etc.
  • Boost your meals with plants: to make your meat portions go further, mix it with legumes and extra vegetables. For example, if a recipe needs 500g of mince, choose to use 250g of mince and add a can of beans and extra grated vegetables.
  • Focus on quality over quantity: choose lean cuts of meat in smaller portions. Look for less fat or cuts with visible fat that is easy to removed.
  • Keep an eye on portions size: If you want a steak, choose a smaller portion or reduce the number of chops you have from two to one.

Download the position statement