freelance journalist, print journalist, online journalist, copywriter, content editor, freelance editor, health and lifestyle, blogger To eat or not to eat meat? Hmm, good question | Christine Morgan - Journalist
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Regular Riskfactorphobes Anonymous readers may remember that, when it comes to health news about meat eating, I’m always particularly in favour of reports that warn of the dangers of eating too much (okay, I’m owning up to a vested interest for those who don’t already know: I’m a vegetarian and will defend my right to not eat meat to the death, I said to the death). So it’s been interesting to read about the recent conflicting reports. First the British Nutrition Foundation declared eating a moderate amount of meat is not only safe, it’s good for you.

The BNF got its claim in early, as it knew another report – this time from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition – was up for publication this week, and the report is widely believed to recommend that meat eaters restrict their intake to 500g per week. Now that was never going to go down well with committed carnivores, who may well eat two or three times that amount. But eating too much, say the SACN experts, could increase your risk for bowel cancer.

Ding ding, end of round one.

But the meat industry bigwigs have come steaming in with another counter-attack on the SACN, saying that women especially will lose out if they cut back on red meat because they risk becoming anaemic. That’s because red meat is probably the best source of iron, and if you don’t get enough iron, it could lead to anaemia.

Oh, this is turning into a great fight. I just wish they’d slug it out in the ring for real. I’d be there, fighting my corner too, flying the flag for non-meat eaters who know full well the dangers of becoming iron deficient, and who, because they eat a pretty good diet, are healthy and – in my case at least – very much NOT anaemic. Funnily enough, I have a history of anaemia, but all during my teens when I ate meat (confession number two).

Women who DO eat meat are not getting enough iron, say the meat backers. In fact, Dr Carrie Ruxton, a dietician and member of the Meat Advisory Panel (so hardly unbiassed then, pretty much like myself you might argue) has been quoted in the press today as saying: “We’ve already got 50% of women in this country who have iron intakes below the absolute minimum in your diet. Are we going to have more women who are going to be iron deficient because of this sort of advice?”

Well then, that’s a puzzle, isn’t it? Half the women in this country aren’t getting enough iron. But there are only 1.8 million vegetarians in the UK. So that leaves an awful lot of meat-eating women who are risking iron deficiency. Ah, right, so they’re not eating enough meat then?

Hmmm. I’m not eating any meat and I’m not iron deficient (I know because I had a blood test last year). Go figure.

Then again, let’s compare the risks of not eating enough meat with eating too much – according to the experts, that is. So eating too much meat could increase your risk for bowel cancer, a disease that killed more than 16,000 people in the UK in 2008 and is the second more common cause of cancer death in this country according to Cancer Research UK. Not eating enough meat could leave you anaemic (and let’s not forget that the main symptoms of anaemia are tiredness and tingly fingers). When you look at the argument like that, it’s hardly a level playing field, risk-wise, is it?

I rest my case.