With over 160,000 deaths each year attributed to cardiovascular disease (CVD), GP Dr Gill Jenkins, member of the Meat Advisory Panel discusses heart heath and takes a look behind the red meat headlines.
- 7 million people are living with cardiovascular disease in the UK1
- Nearly one in six men and one in ten women die from coronary heart disease1
- There are up to 175,000 heart attacks in the UK each year, that’s one every three minutes1
“February is National Heart Month, a campaign by the British Heart Foundation, and is often a time when people may stop to think about their own heart health. Patients often ask me what type of things can have an impact on their heart and what steps they can take to look after it. Quite often they come to me with the latest media headlines about heart disease, asking for example if they should stop eating red meat.
“In terms of looking after our heart, we should be;
- Following a healthy balanced diet, with 5 portions of fruit and veg a day and keeping your intake of fatty foods low.
- Moving around and taking part in exercise – be it a walk or a gym class- its recommended to have 30minutes of activity (enough to make you mildly sweaty or mildly breathless), 5 days a week, although you can break this into smaller more frequent amounts.
- Watching our weight – if you are overweight gradually reduce your portion sizes and gradually increase your activity levels to get slowly reduce your weight over several months.
- Not smoking – smoking has the greatest risk to your heart so seek help to stop, ask at your health centre to see the specialist nurse or doctor.
- Not drinking too much alcohol.
- Know your cholesterol level and how to reduce it, if it’s too high – again, ask at your health centre about having a test, and also about having your blood pressure checked.
“The latter part of the advice is easier for patients to understand what they need to do. It’s the healthy balanced diet that gets the questions.
Moderation and a little bit of everything
“I tell my patients that moderation and a little bit of everything is the key to good health. They often ask me about red meat and if they should stop eating it. No is the answer, lean meat has lots of health benefits. Lean red meat provides vital protein, plus vitamins and minerals to help fuel our body’s needs.
“This includes vitamin A for eye and skin health, vitamin D for bone health and immune function, iron for energy levels and cognitive function, magnesium for muscle and nervous function, zinc for reproductive health, hair and nails, and selenium, which acts as a powerful antioxidant and potassium for blood pressure control.
“With regards to headlines suggesting people stop eating red meat, results from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study did not indicate any association between total red meat intake and randomisation for heart failure.
“The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) recommends average daily red meat intake of up to 70 grams per day (as cooked meat) for adults. Average intakes in the UK are already close to this level at 72g daily, suggesting that most people do not need to eat less red meat.”
 Nettleton JA, Steffen LM, Loehr LR, Rosamond WD, Folsom AR. Incident heart failure is associated with lower whole-grain intake and greater high-fat dairy and egg intake in the atherosclerosis risk in communities (aric) study. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008;108:1881-1887.
 SACN (Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition). (2010). "Iron and Health." http://www.sacn.gov.uk/pdfs/sacn_iron_and_health_report_web.pdf