Meat consumption has taken a bit of bashing recently with headlines proclaiming high protein diets 'as bad as smoking'. But fear not meat eaters, a European study (the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer, EPIC indeed!) in over half a million patients reported that increased incidence of cancer and mortality is due to processed meat, not that from fresh red meat (1). Also, a Japanese study showed meat consumption up to 100g/day was not related to increased death from cardiovasular disease (2) It needs emphasing how important it is to cut out the junk and processed meats, and increase the amount of fresh produce. Meat has it's place as a vital part of a balanced diet
So what benefits does eating meat provide? There are many nutrients that are only available from meat, fish, eggs and that are not in plant sources. This is true particularly for many B vitamins that are a vital for the nervous system and brain development.
Red meat contains thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (B3) pantothenic acid (B5), folate, vitamin B6 and is a very rich source of B12.
Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal products including fish, meat, poultry, and eggs. However this vitamin is generally not present in plant foods. So vegans and vegetarians beware you may be deficient
Low B12 levels have been associated with neurological symptoms such as difficulty balancing, memory lapses, depression, mania, fatigue and psychosis (3). A recent study showed that long term deficiency of B12 can lead to the brain actually shrinking, due to atrophy (4). As Vegans and vegetarians are often deficient in B12 (5), I highly recommend supplementation for those that are. However, before you pick any B vitamin complex supplement off the shelf be aware there are two types of vitamin B12 to look out for:
Methylcobalamin and Cyanocobalamin
Methylcobalamin is better absorbed and is preferred, so check those labels. While cyanocobalamin may be cheaper it is false economy with little as 1% absorbed (6).
Packed with important minerals
Meat does not only provide B vitamins, it has high quantities of other essential minerals like zinc, iron and selenium. Your selenium is so often ignored, but deficiency in this can lead to dementia, and can cause hypothyroidism (6). Other sources for selenium include oysters, and brazil nuts
Quality over quantity
Are you eyes bigger than your belly? Better quality meat is raised under more ethical conditions, tastes better and has higher nutritional value (7). You don't have to buy fillet, cheaper cuts like brisket, cheek and oxtail are great when slow cooked. If you see grain fed beef, don't buy it. Just eat real food that eats it's natural diet.