21 August 2019.
The Heart Foundation has recommended a limit on red meat intake following new evidence from a review organised by the Sax Institute into the links between red meat, poultry and heart health.
The new advice is that Australians eat less than 350 grams a week of unprocessed beef, lamb, pork and veal in total to ensure good heart health, which equates to around one to three lean red-meat meals a week, like a Sunday roast and a beef stir-fry.
This new advice was prepared following the findings of a new Evidence Check published by the Sax Institute, which was commissioned by the Heart Foundation to review evidence on the heart health effects of eating unprocessed red meat and poultry. After reviewing 19 studies, the Evidence Check found that people who ate less than 50g of unprocessed red meat per day had the lowest risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease (CVD). The Heart Foundation says healthy sources of protein such as fish and legumes should be preferred over unprocessed poultry and red meat. Current average red meat consumption is about 100g per day.
The Heart Foundation’s Chief Medical Advisor, cardiologist Professor Garry Jennings, said that processed and deli meats should also be limited. “They have been consistently linked to a higher risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions,” said Professor Jennings. “Instead, we suggest people should get most of their heart-healthy protein from plant sources such as beans, lentils (legumes) and tofu, as well as fish and seafood, with a smaller amount from eggs and lean poultry. Heart-healthy eating is more about the combination of foods, eaten regularly over time.”
Poor diet is the leading contributor to heart disease. In fact, the Heart Foundation estimates that if Australians ate the recommended daily intake of vegetables, it would reduce the risk of CVD by approximately 16% and save $1.4 billion in health spending.
Thanks to this new review, the Evidence Check has been able to shed new light on the relationship between unprocessed meat intake and CVD, and the importance of heart-healthy eating.
Sian Rudge, Head of the Evidence for Action Division at the Sax Institute, said this is a great example of how Sax Institute Evidence Checks can connect decision makers with the best evidence, and help create a healthier Australia. “It’s wonderful that the Sax Institute can use its expertise to support organisations such as the Heart Foundation in making important public health recommendations,” she said.
The Heart Foundation’s advice on meat comes with other new health recommendations, following a separate review of evidence by Heart Foundation staff on the health effects of eating eggs and dairy. This resulted in the Heart Foundation lifting restrictions on full-fat milk, cheese and yogurt, as these foods were found to neither increase or decrease risks for heart disease or stroke. However, people who suffer high cholesterol or heart disease are advised to stick to unflavoured reduced-fat milk, yogurt and cheese and to eat less than seven eggs per week. People with type 2 diabetes are also advised to eat fewer than seven eggs per week. As for butter, cream, ice-cream and dairy-based desserts – these are still not recommended as heart-healthy since they contain higher fat and sugar levels and less protein.
The Heart Foundation advises Australians to eat a variety of healthy foods, including more vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, and healthy proteins like fish and seafood, while cutting down on highly processed junk foods.
A Sax Institute Evidence Check conducts a rapid review of existing research and evidence that is tailored to a policy agency’s individual needs. To find out more, visit the Sax Institute’s Evidence Check Library.