How Much Red Meat Is Too Much?

Red meat is a great source of lean protein which is important for health. BUT is it true that too much red meat can cause cancer?
Posted on Jul 19, 2021 By Valentina Duong Valentina Duong

There’s been a lot of beef and mixed messages about beef in recent years.

On one hand, there are studies highlighting the link between excessive red meat and processed meats with cancer. On the other hand, there are researchers arguing that

Which Animals Count As Red Meat?

List of Unprocessed Meat:
Unprocessed red meat includes lamb, beef, veal (young cow), mutton (sheep), pork, goat and kangaroo.Β  Some game meats (hunter for food, rather than raised on a farm)Β  are considered red meat but nutritionally,Β  there is not enough research on rabbit, pheasant, bison, venison (elk or deer) to classify it as either white or red meat.

Benefits of Unprocessed Red Meat

  • Good source of lean protein with all the essential amino acids (muscle-building blocks)
  • Rich in iron which is particularly important for athletes, adolescent and adult women, athletes,
  • High in zinc which plays an important role in immunity, cell growth, wound healing, protein synthesis, and a sense of smell and taste.
  • A great source of Vitamin B12. It is essential for healthy red blood cells and nerve cells.


Disadvantages & Health Risks of Unprocessed Red Meat

  • Unprocessed red meat is associated with a higher risk of coronary heart disease. This link does not differ according to BMI (which means that regardless of weight, this link occurs).
  • This risk of cornary heart disease was lowered by replacing red meat with plant-based protein including legumes and beans, nuts, soy, dairy and wholegrains. [3]
  • For every extra 100g intake of red meat, there was a 19% higher risk of developing ischaemic heart disease. However, substituting the same calorie amount of meat for fatty fish, eggs, yoghurt, or cheeese resulted in a 15-24% lower risk of ischaemic heart disease [4]

Recommended meat intake per person per day

The Heart Foundation recommendations highlight that:

  • Unprocessed meat can be included within a healthy diet as a good sourceof protein, but there should be a preference for fish, legumes and beans as main sources of protein.
  • A maximum of 350g of cooked unprocesed meat should be included per week. This is the equivalent of 1-3 meals with meat in it per week.
  • The Cancer Council has a slightly higher maximum intake, suggesting that individuals not exceeed 455g of lean, cooked red meat. This aligns with the Australian Dietary Guidelines that recommends 65g of lean, cooked red meat daily. *
  • Highly processed meats should be avoided and is not included within this 350g/week recommendations. Highly processed meats include ham, bacon, salami and sausages.

* Note: 65g cooked, lean red meat is the equivalent of 90-100g raw red meat, as meat loses about 30% of it’s weight during cooking.

How Much Red Meat Per day In Grams Is Safe?

Ideally, for the general population 75-100g of cooked meat is safe to consume per day, up to 3 days per week.

This is much higher for individuals who have low iron levels or high iron needs.

How Much Red Meat Does The Average Australian Eat Per Week?

On average, Australians have a daily intake of about 152g of cooked fish and seafood, poultry, beef,Β  lamb, pork, poultry (chicken and eggs) and processed meats. [1] Almost 40% of that is from lean, red meat (57g per day). That is within the Australian Dietary Guidelines, however, one of the main concerns is that Australians intake of processed meat is too high. In fact, Australian adult men have over 100g of processed meats per week despite guidelines suggesting to minimise and avoid processed meats where possible. [2]


Why Is Processed Red Meat So Bad For You?

Processed red meat carries a high risk of colorectal cancer with just 50g of processed meat per day causing a 16% higher risk of colorectal cancer.

Processed meats are often salted and cured in the preservation process. This category includes salami, ham, pastrami, bacon, sausages, and more
Processed meats are often salted and cured in the preservation process. This category includes salami, ham, pastrami, bacon, sausages, and more

Red Meat Heart Disease Myth

While the link between red meat and heart disease is not a myth, it is evident that unprocessed meat has the strongest link to cardiovascular disease. The most important takeaway from this article is to: reduce your intake of processed meats as best as you can to help protect your heart.

Sui, Z., Raubenheimer, D., & Rangan, A. (2017). Consumption patterns of meat, poultry, and fish after disaggregation of mixed dishes: secondary analysis of the Australian National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey 2011–12. BMC Nutrition, 3(1). About Us Contact Privacy Terms of use Cookies COPYRIGHT Β© 2015 MEAT AND LIVESTOCK AUSTRALIA
Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2014. 4364.0.55.007 - Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results - Foods and Nutrients, 2011-12. Accessed October 2016;
Zhong VW, Van Horn L, Greenland P, et al. Associations of Processed Meat, Unprocessed Red Meat, Poultry, or Fish Intake With Incident Cardiovascular Disease and All-Cause Mortality. JAMA Intern Med. 2020;180(4):503–512. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.6969
Key TJ, Appleby PN, Bradbury KE, et al. Consumption of Meat, Fish, Dairy Products, and Eggs and Risk of Ischemic Heart Disease. Circulation2019;139:2835-45. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.118.038813. pmid:31006335
Valentina Duong
Valentina Duong
A nutritionist and powerlifter with numerous first place finishes at national and international competitions. Valentina's rediscovering joy, one snack at a time.


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