This year we had a couple of big news in the nutrition world. First, the Heart Association‘s relaxed its position on full-fat dairy products and eggs. Second, the Annals of Internal Medicine published a set of guidelines that told meat eaters: “keep doing what you’re doing”. This is a summary on the latest recommendations on red meat, eggs and dairy, to be taken with a grain of salt.
Annals of Internal Medicine recommendations
These recommendations are based on the review of several scientific papers by a panel consisting of 14 people from Canada, England, Germany, New Zealand, Poland, Spain and the US. The panel included experts in nutrition and health, but also members of the public. Most of them were meat eaters, which might have introduced some bias into the reviews. They looked at the effects of red meat and processed meat consumption on cardiovascular and metabolic health and cancer incidence and mortality (1).
Members of the panel followed a methodology to rate the quality of the studies they reviewed. This included considering a realistic and meaningful decrease in consumption of red meat as 3 serves per week (1).
Eleven members of the panel agreed that people should continue normal red meat andprocessed meat intake. These were weak recommendations based on low-certainty evidence. Evidence is low-certainty due to the many limitations of nutritional studies, including but not limited to confounding factors and inaccurate outcome measures (1).
Heart Foundation recommendations
On the flip side, the Heart Foundation continues endorsing unprocessed red meat as part of a healthy diet. However, they recommend consuming less than 350g (or 1-3 meals) of red met pear week (2).
The Australian Heart Foundation has relaxed their recommendations on dairy. Specifically, they now recognise the role of milk, cheese and yoghurt in health regardless of their fat content (3).
It’s been known for a while that dietary cholesterol does not raise blood cholesterol in a significant way. Health authorities, however, have been slow to adjust their recommendations. In their latest position statement, the Heart Foundation recognises that cardiovascular disease is not all about the number in your cholesterol panel, and that eggs have a lot more nutrients than just cholesterol (4).
The Heart Foundation does place a limit for those with diabetes, due to the fact that they might be at greater risk of cardiovascular disease when consuming more than 7 eggs per week (4).
Current Australian Dietary Guidelines
The current Australian Dietary Guidelines were published in 2013 and include the following: (5)
Red meat and eggs
These fall in the “Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds and legumes/beans” category. Most adults should consume between 2.5 and 3 serves of these per day. One serve is:
- 65g cooked lean red meats such as beef, lamb, veal, pork, goat or kangaroo (about 90-100g raw)
- 80g cooked lean poultry such as chicken or turkey (100g raw)
- 100g cooked fish fillet (about 115g raw) or one small can of fish
- 2 large (120g) eggs
- 1 cup (150g) cooked or canned legumes/beans such as lentils, chick peas or split peas (preferably with no added salt)
- 170g tofu
- 30g nuts, seeds, peanut or almond butter or tahini or other nut or seed paste (no added salt). Note that these are occasional substitue for other foods in this group because they provide less micronutrients per kilojoule
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend milk, yoghurt cheese and/or alternatives to be mostly reduced fat. Note that dairy alternatives (e.g. soy) must be fortified with calcium to be a good substitute for real dairy. Most people need 2.5 serves per day. One serve is:
- 1 cup milk or alternative (with at least 100mg of added calcium per 100ml)
- 1/2 cup evaporated milk (not my favourite)
- 2 slices (40g) hard cheese
- 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
- 3/4 cup (200g) yoghurt (preferably unsweetened in my opinion)
Please see the table below for specific number of serves per food group for each adult population group (5).
|Lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans||Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives (mostly reduced fat)|
|19-50||3 serves per day||2.5 serves per day|
|51-70||2.5 serves per day||2.5 serves per day|
|70+||2.5 serves per day||3.5 serves per day|
|19-50||2.5 serves per day||2.5 serves per day|
|51-70||2 serves per day||4 serves per day|
|70+||2 serves per day||4 serves per day|
|Pregnant||3.5 serves per day||2.5 serves per day|
|Lactating||2.5 serves per day||2.5 serves per day|
Summary and my recommendations
Unprocessed red meat, minimally processed dairy and eggs are nutritious foods and thus can be part of a healthy diet. Because studying the effects of a single food on health is virtually impossible, we rely mainly on statistics to tell us what is likely to be better for health. Most studies are flawed and biased and they may not apply to you as a unique snowflake. However, they are the best source of data we have to make informed decisions at a population level.
Having said that, I think the key for avoiding issues with any food is variation. If you vary your protein sources throughout the week, you won’t be over-consuming red meats, eggs or dairy. Plus, you won’t get bored of eating the same kind of meat every day.
Prioritise quality over quantity. Buy grass-fed and grass-finished meat, pastured-raise or at least organic/free-range eggs and good quality dairy when possible.
Processed meats, in my opinion, should be consumed once in a while. If you can, make sure they are made with quality meats and minimal preservatives.
Try pairing meats with foods naturally high in antioxidants. Examples include herbs such as rosemary, berries, and extra virgin olive oil.
- Johnston BC, Zeraatkar D, Han MA, Vernooij RWM, Valli C, El Dib R, et al. Unprocessed Red Meat and Processed Meat Consumption: Dietary Guideline Recommendations From the Nutritional Recommendations (NutriRECS) Consortium. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2019.
- National Heart Foundation of Australia. Position Statement Meat & Heart Healthy Eating2019 28/10/2019 28/10/2019]. Available from: https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/images/uploads/main/Nutrition_Position_Statement_-_MEAT.pdf.
- National Heart Foundation of Australia. Position Statement Dairy & Heart Healthy Eating2019 28/10/2019 28/10/2019]. Available from: https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/images/uploads/publications/Nutrition_Position_Statement_-_DAIRY.pdf.
- National Heart Foundation of Australia. Position Statement Eggs & Heart Healthy Eating2019 28/10/2019 28/10/2019]. Available from: https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/images/uploads/main/Nutrition_Position_Statement_-_EGGS_FINAL-3.pdf.
- National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian Dietary Guidelines. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council; 2013.
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