Many of us eat over 90g of red and processed meat a day – we should be moving that down towards the population average of 70g a day. Meanwhile only 30% of us are meeting the 5-a-day recommendation for fruit and vegetables and a mere 23% consume the recommended one portion of oily fish per week.
Whether it's a burger, a roast dinner or a steak, meat tends to form a central part of most meals. And there are health benefits to eating some meat in the diet– it is a good source of protein and minerals including iron.
However, some meat contains high levels of saturated fat, and some processed meats can be high in salt. Too much saturated fat increases cholesterol levels and too much salt leads to high blood pressure, both of which increase your risk of heart disease.
What’s more, research shows that eating a lot of red and processed meat increases the risk of developing colon cancer. There is a strong case for watching how much meat we eat.
Slowing down climate change
There are also environmental consequences of the amount of meat consumed. According to a recent Chatham House report the rearing, production and transport associated with livestock accounts for 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions. There is also huge amount of natural resource required in the rearing of livestock, including land, grain and water.
If as a population we were to reduce the amount of meat we currently eat on average, to a diet that looks more like the eatwell plate, we can collectively help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve our health at the same time - a better situation for both our health and the environment.
So how do we go about eating less meat?
Our advice is to eat less red and processed meat if you’re a high consumer, so you might consider replacing some of the meat in casseroles, stews or curries with more vegetables, fish, beans and pulses. These meat substitutes are all good alternative sources of protein, just remember to choose lower fat versions of products.
Where possible, it’s better for the environment to eat in-season fruit and vegetables produced in the UK
It is not just the nation’s meat eating habits that have an impact on greenhouse gas emissions. Fruit and vegetables produced in-season tend to require less energy, water and other resources than those produced out of season or in a greenhouse. Interestingly, food produced in its native environment tends to result in fewer greenhouse gas emissions than the same food grown elsewhere. In short, where possible, it’s better for the environment to eat in-season fruit and vegetables produced in the UK! Food labels can tell you which country food was produced in.
Take a look at the ‘What’s in Season’ website which outlines seasonal fruit and vegetables in the UK. For ideas on getting additional seasonal vegetables into your favourite meals check out ‘Dabble With Your Dinner’.
The big picture
One of PHE’s seven priorities is to reduce the number of overweight and obese adults and children. Changing the nation’s attitude towards diet is one of the ways in which we’re doing that through our research, work with local authorities, catering advice and in our Change4Life healthy living campaign.
Eating a healthy balanced diet with less saturated fat, salt and sugar and more fruit and vegetables, fibre and oily fish will not only help our environment but will also contribute to lowering levels of overweight and obesity.