February 18/London/Daily Mail -- After years of worrying that tucking into red meat could lead to a heart attack or cancer, consumers can relax and enjoy the Sunday roast, say researchers.
A report demolishes the "myths and misconceptions" about the meat, saying that most people eat healthy amounts which are not linked to greater risk of disease.
Modern farming methods have cut fat levels, which can be even lower than chicken, while red meat provides high levels of vital nutrients, including iron.
A vegetarian having a Cheddar cheese salad will eat seven times more fat, pound for pound, than lean red meat contains, says a review by the British Nutrition Foundation.
However, the World Cancer Research Fund, which advises people to curb red meat consumption and cut out processed meat, disputed the findings.
The 77-page review, which looks at current evidence on health and red meat, found no evidence of "negative health effects."
It shows on average men in the U.K. eat 96g of red meat and processed meat a day and women are eating 57g.
Those eating more than 140g a day are advised by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition to cut down, as these levels are linked to disease.
There has been a cut in consumption over the last 30 years, with Britons eating less than many other European countries including Spain, Italy, France, Sweden and the Netherlands.
The review says there is "no conclusive link" between cardiovascular disease and red meat, which actually contains some fatty acids that may protect the heart.
At current levels of average consumption, there also is no evidence of a link to cancer, it says.
Cooking methods which overdo or char the meat are a much more likely cause of any link with bowel cancer, says the review.
Dr. Carrie Ruxton, an independent dietician and member of the Meat Advisory Panel, which is supported by a grant from the meat industry, said, "This review highlights that eating red meat in moderation is an important part of a healthy balanced diet.
"It also lays to rest many of the misconceptions about meat and health. People have been told they can't eat it and they feel guilty when they do, but given that current intakes, on average, are well within health targets, there is no reason to eat less red meat if you enjoy it."
An average slice of ham is 23g, beef 45g and a thick slice of lamb 90g. A small piece of steak is 100g.
Ruxton said, "There is less saturated fat in a grilled pork steak than a grilled chicken breast with the skin left on."
Although meat eaters often have more body fat than vegetarians, the review says it is impossible to attribute this to shunning meat as vegetarians tend to have more health-conscious lifestyles.
Ruxton said many young women were iron-deficient and should be eating more red meat, but she advised that processed meat should be no more than an occasional treat.
"You don't need red meat every day, people should be eating fish twice a week, but if you ate a slice of red meat in a sandwich daily you can eat a portion of red meat for dinner up to four times a week and still stay within healthy limits," she said.
Professor Martin Wiseman, medical and scientific adviser for World Cancer Research Fund, said the study was being promoted by the meat industry, but added, "This paper is not a systematic review of the evidence and does not change the fact that there is convincing evidence that red and processed meat increase risk of bowel cancer.
"This is why we recommend limiting red meat to 500g cooked weight per week and avoiding processed meat.
"It is true that red meat contains valuable nutrients, and this is why we do not recommend avoiding it altogether. But to suggest, as the authors of this review have done, that there is 'no evidence' that a moderate intake of lean red meat has any negative health effects is wrong.
"Essentially, the public has a choice between believing our findings -- which are those of an independent panel of scientists after a systematic and transparent review of the complete global evidence -- or the conclusions of this review."
The review was published in the Nutritional Bulletin, the journal of the British Nutrition Foundation, a charity with funding from various sources including the food industry.
From the March 7, 2011, Prepared Foods E-dition