Red meat has received a lot of bad publicity and it is often believed that chicken or white meat is healthier.

Most publicity has been associated with the content and type of fat in red meat. Red meat is far leaner than it was 30 years ago - newer breeds of livestock carry less fat. Surplus fat is trimmed off, even before cuts leave the shop.

Fat surrounds the muscle of meat and is incorporated within it, giving fatty meat a marbled appearance. Trimming the fat from meat significantly reduces its total fat content. The hidden fat content within leaner cuts of meat is relatively low.

Eliminating red meat from the diet, for whatever reason, can lead to iron and zinc deficiencies. Even white meat eaters are at risk of iron depletion. Iron is essential for the body as it carries oxygen to the cells. White meat eaters or vegetarians need to eat legumes, wholegrain and breakfast cereals to get enough iron and zinc.

There are two types of iron. Non-haem iron is found in bread, fruit, breakfast cereals, legumes, eggs and nuts. Non-haem iron is better absorbed when eaten with vitamin C or meat. The haem iron found in red meat, poultry and seafood is easily absorbed by the body.

Women need more iron than mean because of regular blood-loss through menstruation. Women must eat food with concentrated sources of iron because they generally east less than men.

Meat colour is determined by the amount of myoglobin - an oxygen-storing pigment that contains iron. The more myoglobin, the higher the iron content and the redder the meat. Chicken leg meat is darker than the breast because of the myoglobin content.

Lamb, venison and other red meat, as well as poultry and fish, provide important substances for growth and tissue repair. The New Zealand nutrition guidelines recommend at least one serving a day of meat or an alternative.

So don’t bypass red meat - remember, leaner cuts now available are low in fat and are rich sources of vitamins and minerals.

[This article was written for New Zealand Fitness Magazine in 1999 and is reproduced with permission of the author, Nikki Hart. Nikki Hart is a New Zealand-registered dietician. She has a Bachelor in Consumer and Applied Sciences, majoring in human nutrition.]

SEVEN NUTRITIONAL BENEFITS OF LAMB

  • Lamb is an excellent source of high quality protein.
  • Lamb is an ideal source of iron. An average portion can provide 20 per cent of the recommended daily intake for men and 12 per cent for women. The iron found in lamb and other red meat is in a form that is easily absorbed by the body. The inclusion of iron in the diet is vital in the formation of red blood cells.
  • Lamb provides 45 per cent of the daily requirement of zinc, essential for growth, healing and a healthy immune system. Like iron, the zinc found in lamb is more easily absorbed by the body than zinc found in other sources.
  • Lamb is a great source of B vitamins, essential for metabolic reactions in the body. It can provide over 100 per cent of the daily requirement of B12 and is a good source of thiamine.
  • Lamb also contains trace elements such as copper, manganese and selenium.
  • As a result of breeding developments, feeding practices, butchery methods and trimming, the fat in lamb has been greatly reduced over the past 20 years. For example, Lamb Leg Steaks may contain as little as 5.1 per cent fat.
  • Half the fat in lamb is unsaturated, which is good for you. Most of the unsaturated fat is monounsaturated, commonly found in the healthy 'Mediterranean-type diet'.