Friday, December 6, 2013

The Mediterranean diet, super-foods, or a just a play on words?

Dr Emma Derbyshire

Recently there appears to have been a lot of articles reporting that the key to good health appears to be to follow a Mediterranean diet. It’s also reported that the Mediterranean diet means eating less red meat. But is this a correct understanding of the diet? There are 18 countries on the Mediterranean coastline with differing diets, so I think a Mediterranean diet has become a phrase more than a diet. Here’s why.   

Europe vs. UK, who eats more red meat?

I don’t deny that the scientific literature on the diet has come to define the Mediterranean diet from Spain, Italy and Greece as high in olive oil, legumes, fruits and vegetables, fish and with a moderate consumption of meat and dairy products[1]. However, statistics also show that Mediterranean countries consume more red meat than the UK[2]. Greece, Spain and Italy are all famous for the meats they produce and eat as a staple. This meat intake is quite different to what is currently communicated as the Mediterranean diet.

Mediterranean diet – the real definition

I think there are problems with the current definition of the Mediterranean diet. Firstly, whilst studies into the Mediterranean diet have considered the dietary pattern generally, there are no substantial studies or meta-analysis research that has looked to define the quantities and regularity of food actually consumed. This is particularly the case with red meat intakes.

Secondly, confusion comes from the scientific definition. Scientists define the Mediterranean diet as a diet with low fatty acid levels.  Grains and vegetable oils, amongst others, provide oleic acid and alpha linoleic acid whilst fish provides a higher amount of omega-3’ acids to omega-6 acids. These acid intakes mean that there is more unsaturated than saturated fat in the diet and this is seen as the highest health benefit to the diet. However, whilst the fatty acid content of a diet is being profiled, again scientists are not actually looking at how much red meat is being eaten.

The fairest way to see a Mediterranean diet is to view it as a nutrient rich diet, this actually means a red meat rich diet as well. To suggest reducing the amount of red meat eaten is an incorrect definition of a Mediterranean diet.


[1] "Get your Meds: the Mediterranean Diet and Health", Ellen Gooch, Epikouria Magazine, Fall 2005
[2] Food and Agriculture Organisation of United Nations, FAOSTAT, Food Balance sheet 2009.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Red meat – friend or foe?

by Dr Carrie Ruxton
The Meat Advisory Panel recently conducted some research with healthcare professionals to find out their views about red meat in the diet, and to determine what advice should be given to patients about including red meat in their diets. Here's a snapshot of the survey findings.
Four out of five healthcare professionals expressed a favourable view about the contribution red meat makes to a balanced diet and, when asked about meat intake levels, 46% didn’t think people were eating too much and most thought the right approach was to persuade people to switch from processed meats to leaner, fresh cuts of red meat.

Given the number of ‘scaremongering’ media reports when it comes to red meat, it was encouraging to see that 94% of respondents would not change their diet or patient advice on the basis of media coverage of red meat. Of these, two in five said that they would pay no attention while over half said they would check out the evidence before taking a decision.

A large majority (70%) also told us that they were sceptical about claims that red meat causes conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. This opinion corresponds with the Meat Advisory Panel’s view, given that most of the studies reporting associations between red meat intake and disease risk or mortality, arise from the US where meat consumption is far higher than in the UK.

The studies also do not correct adequately for other factors that can influence disease risk, such as high intakes of fat and alcohol, low physical activity levels, or low intakes of fruit, vegetables and fibre. Overall, there is no credible evidence that red meat causes heart disease and, indeed, lean red meat is a source of selenium and vitamin D which have been associated with reduced risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes.

Navigating through confusion
One area of concern was the general agreement from healthcare professionals that patients are confused about the differences between lean red meat and processed meat. This is a key point with regard to media articles about meat as many studies actually involve high intakes of processed meat, which tend to be higher in salt and fat, rather than healthier lean red meats. Often this is not made clear in the resulting press stories which adds to patients’ confusion about whether lean red meat is a healthy choice (it is!).

When looking at the role lean red meat has to play in the diet, healthcare professionals recognised that the ‘reduce meat’ message wasn’t appropriate for everyone. When asked who should be advised to eat more red meat, they suggested vulnerable groups at risk from low nutrient intakes, such as those at risk of iron deficient (66%), children and teenagers (28%), pregnant women (22%) and elderly people (22%).  Less than 35% would not advise an increase for any groups and over 23% would not advise any groups to eat less meat.

Public Health advice
Healthcare professionals have an important role in helping patients navigate conflicting information about red meat in the diet and, given the results from our research, it appears that healthcare professionals consider lean red meat to be very much a friend in a balanced diet.

Let us know what you think about the role lean red meat has to play in the nation’s health. Do you think it is an important part of a patient’s diet?

If you are a healthcare professional, what do you think of the findings? Do you provide diet advice to patients? Do you advise them about their red meat intake? Email with your thoughts.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Role of Red Meat in Teenage Development

This is the blog site for our experts from the Meat Advisory Panel to offer their insight and opinions on current topics and the latest data on the nutritional value of red meat. Please feel free to comment on any post and be involved in their discussions.

Dr Emma Derbyshire looks at the important role red meat has to play in the teenage diet
“I have recently been involved in a review that looked at the role red meat has to play in our diets across our different age spectrums. Today, I thought I would pick out a few of my observations and share some of the thinking about the significant role of red meat in the teenage diet.

“As everyone will be aware, the teenage years are the most rapid years of physical and emotional change.  There are three considerable changes that occur which demand an increase in the bodies’ need for nutrients. These include rapid growth spurts, the onset of menstruation in girls and muscle and bone development, especially in boys.

“However, it is also a time when teenagers are asserting their independence and my research showed that currently some choose to ignore healthy eating and lifestyle messages as these conflict with peer group influences on independence, image and fitting in . Poor eating behaviour in adolescents, including things such as skipping breakfast, dieting for counter-productive weight control, grazing instead of eating meals and preference for foods and drinks high in fat and sugar can be detrimental to health.

“Another recent UK survey, the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) has shown that a considerable amount of teenagers are not taking in enough key nutrients to help support their bodies’ development.  The findings from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS)3 also highlight two particular areas of nutrient concern in 11-18 year olds. These are insufficient intake of iron and vitamin D.

“Worryingly, it showed that nine per cent of teenage girls were iron deficient and over 30 per cent had low iron stores (low ferritin). In the male population it showed that one per cent is iron deficient and eight per cent have low ferritin amount. With regards to vitamin D, 20 per cent of girls and 19 per cent of boys were deficient.

“This is where red meat plays a pivotal role in providing the nutrients teenagers need during this intense physical  growth period. Nutrients such as vitamins B1, B3 (niacin), B6, B12 and D, as well as iron, zinc selenium and potassium – all essential to help support growth and development in the teenage years.

“However, we also know teenagers are consuming below the average recommendations when it comes to lean red meat. The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition advises that we should be consuming up to 500g of cooked meat (around 70g daily) per week , whereas currently adolescents consume on average 64g daily with girls consuming far less than boys. Of interest, another recent study has shown that teenage girls eating under six ounces a week of red meat with two or more servings of fruit or non-starchy vegetables had lower blood lipid levels than teenage girls eating lower amounts of red meat . This suggests that eating red meat in these quantities can provide key nutrients without impacting blood lipid levels.

“I believe there is a need to educate teenagers on the role lean red meat can have as part of a balanced diet for developing their bodies. It is a rich source of high quality protein, containing many of the key nutrients needed during this time of growth. Teenagers often feel awkward and unsure of themselves as they start to discover who they really are, or would like to be, and ensuring a balanced diet, including lean red meat, can help support them nutritionally as they start develop physically and emotionally.”