Dr Mabel Blades PhD. BSc (Hons), RD, D.M.S., M.Phil., MIFST., M.B.A., R.S.H.
Registered dietitian and member of the British Dietetic Association
Pork, beef and lamb are naturally rich in protein, low in salt and provide vitamins and minerals that contribute towards good health.
Here we tell you more about the nutrients contained in red meat and how this may benefit your health when eaten as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.
Red meat is also rarely eaten on its own but with starchy carbohydrates like potatoes, pasta or rice and vegetables or salad and thus provides a meal which can contribute to a healthy, balanced diet as advised in the Eatwell Guide.
What nutrients are in pork, beef and lamb?
The table below illustrates the nutrients that trimmed, lean, raw, pork, beef and lamb naturally provide (per 100g).
Under EU regulations, any claim that a food is a source of a vitamin or mineral must only be made when the product contains a significant amount, defined as at least 15% of the Nutrient Reference Value, or NRV (used to be called the Recommended Dietary Allowance, or RDA), which is an EU guidance level on the daily amount of vitamins/minerals needed, to meet the needs of 98% of the population. For a claim to be ‘high in’ or a ‘rich’ source of a nutrient the food must provide 30% of the NRV.
With protein it is a little different and for a to claim to be made that a food is a source of protein, 10% of the energy (measured in calories) must be derived from protein. For a claim to be made that a food is a rich source of protein, 20% of the energy in the food must be derived from protein.
Iron deserves a special mention as the iron in red meat is in the haem form which is well absorbed (or more “bioavailable”).
The non-haem form of iron is less well absorbed and can be inhibited by tannins in items such as tea or oxalates from certain vegetables like spinach and rhubarb.
Red meat also has a special trick regarding iron absorption as it contains a special protein called the “meat factor” which helps the absorption of non- haem iron. Therefore for example the meat factor in some roast pork in a meal will help you to absorb more iron from the vegetables you serve with it.
How might these nutrients benefit your health?
- Immunity Support
Five of these essential vitamins and minerals help the immune system work normally: vitamin B12, vitamin B6, zinc, selenium and iron. The immune system protects against infections.
- Tiredness and fatigue
Six of these essential nutrients can help to prevent tiredness and fatigue: vitamin B12, vitamin B6, niacin (vitamin B3), riboflavin (vitamin B2), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) and iron.
- Blood pressure
Potassium contributes to the maintenance of normal blood pressure. Also, pork, beef and lamb are naturally low in salt. Reducing consumption of salt contributes to the maintenance of normal blood pressure.
No more than 6g of salt per day is recommended for adults, and less for children.
- Psychological function
Four of these essential vitamins and minerals support normal psychological function: vitamin B12, vitamin B6, niacin (vitamin B3) and thiamin (vitamin B1).
- Cognitive function
Iron and zinc contribute to normal cognitive function. Iron contributes to normal cognitive development of children.
This is extremely important in infants and at weaning a source of iron must be given to prevent possible issues with brain development and later learning ability
- Mental performance
Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) contributes to normal mental performance.
- Hormone regulation
Vitamin B6 contributes to the regulation of hormonal activity. Zinc contributes to the maintenance of normal testosterone (male sex hormone) levels in the blood.
- Nervous system
Vitamin B12, vitamin B6, niacin (vitamin B3), riboflavin (vitamin B2), thiamin (vitamin B1) and potassium help the nervous system to work normally.
Thiamin (vitamin B1) contributes to the normal function of the heart and assists it to keep beating.
Pork, beef and lamb are naturally rich in protein, which supports the growth and maintenance of muscles. They are also a source of potassium, which supports normal muscle function.
More protein is needed in the growing years as muscle development is maximised.
It is also recognised that older people require more protein to prevent sarcopenia which is the condition which causes frailty in older people.
Pork, beef and lamb naturally provide protein, zinc and phosphorus, which contribute to the maintenance of normal bones throughout life.
The NHS comments that red meat contributes to national intakes of vitamin D, which is required for the absorption of calcium and maintenance of healthy bones.
The British Dietetic Association also comments on vitamin D and meat and that red meat contains small amounts.
- Children’s bones
Pork, beef and lamb naturally provide protein and phosphorus, which are both needed for normal growth and development of children’s bones.
- Skin, hair and nails
Niacin (vitamin B3), riboflavin (vitamin B2) and zinc help maintain normal skin. Zinc and selenium help maintain normal hair and nails.
Phosphorus contributes to the maintenance of normal teeth.
Zinc and riboflavin (vitamin B2) contributes to the maintenance of normal vision.
- Fertility and reproduction
Selenium contributes to normal sperm production. Zinc contributes to normal fertility and reproduction.
- Thyroid function
Selenium contributes to normal thyroid function.
- Red blood cells
Vitamins B6 and B12 support normal red blood cell formation. Without sufficient vitamin B12 mis-shaped.
Riboflavin (vitamin B2) supports the maintenance of normal red blood cells. Iron contributes to normal formation of red blood cells and haemoglobin.
- Mucous membranes
Niacin (vitamin B3) and riboflavin (vitamin B2) contribute to the maintenance of normal mucous membranes.
- Oxidative stress protection
Riboflavin (vitamin B2), selenium and zinc contribute to the protection of cells from oxidative stress.
- Cell division
Vitamin B12, zinc and iron have a role in the process of cell division.
- Oxygen transport
Iron contributes to normal oxygen transport in the body.
- Energy production
Eight of these essential vitamins and minerals support normal energy production (energy-yielding metabolism) in the body: vitamin B12, vitamin B6, niacin (vitamin B3), thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), phosphorus, pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) and iron.
Note: Nutrition and health claims are authorised claims that comply with Regulation (EU) 1169/2011. All the claims on this page relate to 100g trimmed, lean raw pork, beef and lamb, based on the nutrient content documented in McCance and Widdowson’s Composition of Foods. Cooking methods used will vary and influence the final nutrient content of red meat as some nutrients like vitamin B1 thiamin is reduced by heat. Also when meat is cooked it loses water and fat and so for example the protein levels change from approximately 20-25g per 100g in raw meat to 28-30g per 100g in cooked meat.