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Meat in your diet

Meat is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals in your diet. However, it is recommended that you do not eat too much red, processed or fatty meat.

How much meat should I eat?

A healthy balanced diet can include protein from meat, as well as from fish and eggs or non-animal sources such as beans and pulses. Meats such as chicken, pork, lamb and beef are all rich in protein.

Red meat provides us with iron, zinc and B vitamins. Meat is one of the main sources of vitamin B12 in the diet.

It is recommended that you do not eat too much red meat, processed meat or meat that is high in saturated fats as this can lead to health problems.

Red meat and processed meat

Eating too much processed meat and red meat probably increases your risk of bowel (colorectal) cancer.

Processed meat can also be high in salt and eating too much salt can increase your risk of high blood pressure.

If you currently eat more than 90g (cooked weight) of red or processed meat a day, it is recommended that you cut down to 70g.

Red meat includes beef, lamb, mutton, pork, veal, venison and goat.

Processed meat is any meat that has been preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding preservatives. This includes:

  • sausages, bacon and ham
  • deli meats such as salami
  • canned meat such as corned beef,
  • sliced luncheon meats (including those made from chicken and turkey)
  • pâtés

You can cut down by eating smaller portions of red and processed meat, eating these meats less often or swapping them for alternatives.

If you eat more than 90g of red and processed meat on one day, you can eat less on the following days so the average amount you eat each day is no more than 70g.

Average weights for portions of meat include:

  • portion of Sunday roast (3 thin-cut slices of roast lamb, beef or pork, each about the size of half a slice of sliced bread) – 90g
  • grilled 8oz beef steak – 163g
  • cooked breakfast (2 standard British sausages, around 9cm long, and 2 thin-cut rashers of bacon) – 130g
  • large doner kebab – 130g
  • 5oz rump steak – 102g
  • quarter-pound beefburger – 78g
  • thin slice of corned beef – 38g
  • a slice of black pudding – 30g
  • a slice of ham – 23g

Meat and saturated fat

Some meats are high in saturated fat, which can raise blood cholesterol levels if you eat too much of it.

Having high cholesterol raises your risk of coronary heart disease.

Making healthier choices can help you eat meat as part of a balanced diet.

Liver and liver products

Liver and liver products, such as liver pâté and liver sausage, are a good source of iron, as well as being a rich source of vitamin A.

However, because they are such a rich source of vitamin A, we should be careful not to eat too much liver and liver product foods.

Having too much vitamin A – more than 1.5mg (1,500 micrograms) of vitamin A per day from food and supplements – over many years may make your bones more likely to fracture when you are older.

If you eat liver or liver products every week, you may be having more than the recommended amount of vitamin A per day and you may want to cut down.

This is particularly important if you have been through the menopause or are an older man because you have a higher risk of bone fracture.

Pregnant women should avoid liver and liver products because they contain a lot of vitamin A which can harm their unborn baby.

Read more about vitamin A in your diet.

Eating meat when you're pregnant

Meat can generally be part of a pregnant woman's diet. However, pregnant women should avoid:

  • raw and undercooked meat because of the risk of toxoplasmosis – make sure any meat you eat is well cooked before eating
  • pâté of all types, including vegetable pâté – they can contain listeria, a type of bacteria that could harm your unborn baby
  • liver and liver products – these foods are very high in vitamin A, and too much vitamin A can harm the unborn child
  • game meats such as goose, partridge or pheasant – these may contain lead shot

Read more about foods to avoid in pregnancy.

Make healthier choices when buying and cooking meat

When buying meat, go for the leanest option.

As a rule, the more white you can see on meat, the more fat it contains. For example, back bacon contains less fat than streaky bacon.

These tips can help you buy healthier options:

  • ask your butcher for a lean cut
  • if you're buying pre-packed meat, check the nutrition label to see how much fat it contains and compare products
  • go for turkey and chicken without the skin as these are lower in fat (or remove the skin before cooking)
  • try to limit processed meat products such as sausages, salami, pâté and beefburgers, because these are generally high in fat – they are often high in salt, too
  • try to limit meat products in pastry, such as pies and sausage rolls, because they are often high in fat and salt

Cut down on fat when cooking meat

Cut off any visible fat and skin before cooking – crackling and poultry skin are much higher in fat than the meat itself.

Here are some other ways to reduce fat when cooking meat:

  • grill meat, rather than frying
  • avoid adding extra fat or oil when cooking meat
  • roast meat on a metal rack above a roasting tin so the fat can run off
  • try using smaller quantities of meat and replacing some of the meat with vegetables, pulses and starchy foods in dishes such as stews, curries and casseroles

Storing meat safely

It's important to store and prepare meat safely to stop bacteria from spreading and to avoid food poisoning:

  • store raw meat or raw poultry in clean sealed containers on the bottom shelf of the fridge, so the meat cannot touch or drip onto other food
  • follow any storage instructions on the label and do not eat meat after its "use by" date
  • store red meat or raw poultry in a freezer before its "use by" date
  • if you cook meat that you're not going to eat straight away, cool it as quickly as possible and then put it in the fridge or freezer – remember to keep cooked meat separate from raw meat and only reheat cooked meat once
  • always thoroughly clean plates, utensils, surfaces and hands straight away after they have touched raw or thawing meat using warm soapy water or disinfectant cleaning products

Freezing meat safely

It's safe to freeze raw meat providing that you:

  • freeze it before the "use by" date
  • date and label meat in the freezer, following any freezing or thawing instructions on the packaging
  • defrost meat in the microwave, using the defrost setting, if you are going to cook it straight away
  • thaw meat fully in a fridge, if you want to defrost it and cook it later – keep it in the fridge and use it within 2 days of defrosting
  • cook food until it's steaming hot all the way through

When meat thaws, liquid can come out of it. This liquid will spread bacteria to any food, plates or surfaces that it touches. Keep the meat in a sealed container at the bottom of the fridge so that it cannot touch or drip onto other foods.

If you defrost raw meat and then cook it thoroughly, you can freeze it again. But never reheat meat or any other food more than once as this could lead to food poisoning.

Cooking meat safely

Follow the cooking instructions on the packaging.

Some people wash meat before they cook it, but this actually increases your risk of food poisoning, because the water droplets splash onto surfaces and can contaminate them with bacteria.

It's important to prepare and cook food safely. Cooking meat properly ensures that harmful bacteria on the meat are killed. If meat is not cooked all the way through, these bacteria may cause food poisoning.

Bacteria and viruses can be found all the way through poultry and certain meat products (such as burgers). This means you need to cook poultry and these sorts of meat products all the way through. When meat is cooked all the way through, its juices run clear and there is no pink or red meat left inside.

Meats and meat products that you should cook all the way through are:

  • poultry and game, such as chicken, turkey, duck and goose, including liver
  • pork
  • offal, including liver
  • burgers and sausages
  • kebabs
  • rolled joints of meat

You can eat whole cuts of beef or lamb when they are pink inside – or "rare" – as long as they are cooked on the outside.

These meats include:

  • steaks
  • cutlets
  • joints

Page last reviewed: 1 May 2024
Next review due: 1 May 2027