Food for thought at Meat Business Women conference

Written by Rosie McGowan

I was delighted to be to have the opportunity to attend the 4th Meat Business Women conference. A fantastic event buzzing with positivity, highlighting the exciting and fast-moving environment the meat industry is to work in and the interesting but interesting challenges we have to face looking forward.

One speaker highlighted that we as producers and manufacturers of red meat are still a long way off understanding the end consumer. She explained that the millennial consumer is more health conscious than ever when buying food, with the food health sector now worth £23 billion. This being said, mainstream ‘healthy products’ could be very unsettling for those producing meat products. Red meat still appears to have a negative ‘unhealthy’ stigma with the number vegetarians and ‘flexitarians’ opting out of meat for health reasons on the rise.

It is clear that consumers care a lot about health and fitness and therefore want to consume protein. I was amazed to hear that there is now a vast range of products with added protein such as breakfast cereals and yogurts and sales of such products are booming.  So why are consumers choosing these over traditional protein sources such as red meat?

Understandably fatty beef cuts are high in saturated fatty acids highly associated with heart disease but lean beef* is low in saturated fat, high in nutrients and has a whole host of other nutritional and health benefits to offer.

Several studies have put lean beef to the test. One study which compared patients with hypercholesterolemia and their long-term lipid levels after eating a diet including lean red meats (beef, veal and pork) compared to lean white meats (poultry and fish). No significant difference was found yet, patients with hypercholesterolemia are often counseled to limit or eliminate intake of red meats.

Lean beef also has a low calorie to nutrient ratio. USDA research conducted in 2007 found that a 85g serving of lean beef (179 calories) contributes less than 10% of a 2000 calorie diet, yet it supplies more than 10% of the daily requirements for the following nutrients (see Table 1).

Beef is so nutrient dense that it would take over 11 servings of tuna to provide the amount of zinc as one serving of beef. To provide the same level of b-12 as one beef serving you would have to consume 7 skinless chicken breasts. It would take 3 cups of raw spinach to provide the iron in one serving of beef; and almost 3 chicken breasts to provide the riboflavin in a single serving of beef.

And better still this product can be produced from grass and forage grown on land that could not be used to produce crops for human consumption, in a system that uses minimal antibiotics and meanwhile maintains an environment, its wildlife and habitats and for the public to enjoy.

Grass fed beef is beef is rich in vitamin E an antioxidant and has a healthy ratio of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.  An 100g steak from a grass fed steer has about 100 milligrams of Omega-3 fatty acids. Beef has also been found to contain conjugated linoleic acid, a fatty acid found to possess anti-carcinogenic properties.

The health benefits of beef go on. Some recent Australian research by Deakin University, Victoria studying over 1000 Australian women found that those who ate the Australian recommend 65-100g of red meat 4 times a week had a 50% reduction in likelihood of depression and anxiety. Professor Felice Jacka, who led the research by Deakin University, Victoria, said: “We had originally thought that red meat might not be good for mental health but it turns out that it actually may be quite important.

“When we looked at women consuming less than the recommended amount of red meat in our study, we found that they were twice as likely to have a diagnosed depressive or anxiety disorder as those consuming the recommended amount.

“Even when we took into account the overall healthiness of the women’s diets, as well as other factors such as their socioeconomic status, physical activity levels, smoking, weight and age, the relationship between low red meat intake and mental health remained.”

Meat and two veg is going out of fashion (a 9% decrease in sales last year), 42% of people now live alone and it’s sad to say 18% of meals are now eaten in front of a laptop! Convenience is king and although the mini roast has been a successful campaign we need to push further the message that beef can be nutritious, health and convenient. Lean beef stir-fry’s, meatballs, bolognaise are a few 15min meals and we as an industry will have to invest in R&D to make beef even easier to consume.

I think it’s about time we as an industry really promoted this quality and nutritious product instead of letting chicken rule the roost!

*The 1990 National Labelling and Education Act definition of “Lean” is: “Lean” is less than 10 grams of total fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol per serving* and per 100 grams. *85 grams = cooked portion.