With Aidiladha around the corner, we cast the spotlight on the consumption of red meat and its impact on our health
Aidiladha, also known as the “Feast of the Sacrifice”, is observed by many Muslims around the world. Also known as Hari Raya Haji or Hari Raya Qurban in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore, one of the significant rituals of Aidiladha is the sacrifice of cows, goats, lamb and sheep, which are then distributed to the needy.
However, many of us consume beef, lamb and mutton on other days of the year, not just on the holiday. We examine its impact on our health with Ms. Mary Easaw, Consultant Dietitian at Cardiac Vascular Sentral Kuala Lumpur (CVSKL).
How does red meat consumption impact health?
Two cohort studies, namely the all-female Nurses’ Health Study (1980-2008) and the all-male Health Professionals Follow-up Study (1986-2008), have shown that consuming more than one serving of red meat or processed meats daily could increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and certain types of cancers.
“A high intake of red meat can raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels in your blood due to the increased intake of saturated fats. It can also increase uric acid levels. It has also been shown that the method of cooking red or processed meats at high temperatures is not recommended as this introduces N-nitroso compounds converted from nitrites, and are potential carcinogens,” says Easaw.
But how much is too much? When it comes to red meat, the recommended serving size is about 100g per serving or approximately a palm size of red meat, limited to one or two servings per week.
More mindful consumption
For those who suffer from high cholesterol or CVD, or who are at an increased risk of these diseases, Easaw recommends:
- Reviewing your weekly food intake to see if you are consuming too much high-fat meals and processed foods, and if there are sufficient vegetables and fruits included in your diet
- Ensuring that all meats consumed should be lean and in the recommended serving sizes
- Incorporating more heart-friendly foods such as tofu, tempeh, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and pulses into your diet.
“Some foods that are great alternatives to red meat include tempeh, mushrooms, beans and lentils, fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy products and whole grains. These foods are rich in proteins, while having lower cholesterol and saturated fat content,” explains Easaw.
“For those who enjoy the taste of red meat but may want to reduce consumption for health reasons, they can consume it in smaller quantities instead of making it the star of the meal. Some ways you can do this, are by using small amounts of lean red meat in salads, vegetable curries and sandwiches, or as additions to stir-fried noodles and fried rice,” she adds.
Benefits of plant-based diets
According to a paper published in Cardiovascular Research, a journal of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), plant-based foods should dominate a heart-healthy diet, although there is no indication that any one food is ‘poison’ in terms of cardiovascular risk.
A review on the role of plant-based diet in cancer prevention which explored the evidence of plant-based diets, showed increased protection against certain cancers with the reduction or total elimination of animal proteins.
“Plant-based diets are a healthier option to build gut health and therefore cognitive health, heart health, as well as diabetes prevention and management. The Mediterranean Diet – which has a plant-based foundation but also includes fish, poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt, with less emphasis on meats and sugars – has been well-researched and its benefits documented. Dietary factors most often linked with excess body fat include high sugar intake, regular intake of fast foods and processed foods, as well as high content of animal fat; whereas foods containing fibre and ‘Mediterranean diet’ patterns tend to reduce these risks,” says Easaw.
“What’s most important in a plant-based diet is to ensure that there is a balanced intake of all nutrients including protein, by maximising the variety of beans, pulses, soy products, nuts, seeds and whole grains that are consumed,” she adds.
No ‘evil’ foods: moderation is key
Every type of food provides nutrition and sustenance to the body, as long as they are consumed in balance and moderation, Easaw believes.
“Demonising certain foods or food groups can have detrimental effects on overall health. There is no good or bad food, but inappropriate dietary eating habits may need to be changed. During celebrations, you can indulge in your favourites but try to not over-indulge or eat mindlessly,” she says.
Practising portion control is key to maintaining a healthy balance. Easaw recommends using the “Malaysia Healthy Plate” guide introduced by the Ministry of Health (MOH), which demonstrates the ideal plate as being comprised of: ½ fruits and vegetables, ¼ grains (preferably whole grains), and the remaining ¼ proteins including meat, for every meal.
Featured photo by Dreamstime. Ms Mary Easaw photo courtesy of herself.
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