Meat is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals in your diet. However, if you currently eat more than 90g (cooked weight) of red and processed meat a day, the Department of Health advises that you cut down to 70g, which is the average daily consumption in the UK.
Making healthier choices can help you eat meat as part of a healthy, balanced diet. But some meats are high in saturated fat, which can raise blood cholesterol levels.
If you eat a lot of red and processed meat, it is recommended that you cut down as there is likely to be a link between red and processed meat and bowel cancer.
Meats such as chicken, pork, lamb and beef are all rich in protein. A balanced diet can include protein from meat, as well as from non-animal sources such as beans and pulses.
Red meat provides us with iron, and meat is also one of the main sources of vitamin B12.
Food hygiene is important when storing, preparing and cooking meat.
The type of meat product you choose and how you cook it can make a big difference to the saturated fat content.
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:
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:
Red meat (such as beef, lamb and pork) can form part of a healthy diet. But eating a lot of red and processed meat probably increases your risk of bowel (colorectal) cancer.
Processed meat refers to meat that has been preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding preservatives. This includes sausages, bacon, ham, salami and pâtés.
If you currently eat more than 90g (cooked weight) of red and processed meat a day, the Department of Health advises that you cut down to 70g, which is the average daily consumption in the UK.
Ninety grams is equivalent to around three thinly cut slices of beef, lamb or pork, where each slice is about the size of half a piece of sliced bread. A cooked breakfast containing two typical British sausages and two rashers of bacon is equivalent to 130g.
For more information, read Red meat and bowel cancer risk.
It's important to store and prepare meat safely to stop bacteria from spreading and to avoid food poisoning:
It's safe to freeze raw meat providing that you:
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 can't 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.
There is more information about how to freeze foods safely in Food safety.
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. For this reason, it's best not to wash meat.
It's important to prepare and cook meat properly. Cooking meat properly ensures that harmful bacteria on the meat are killed. If meat isn't cooked all the way through, these bacteria may cause food poisoning.
Bacteria and viruses can be found all the way through certain meat. This means you need to cook these sorts of meat 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 that you should cook all the way through are:
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. This is because any bacteria are generally on the outside of the meat.
These meats include:
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.
You should be able to get all the vitamin A you need from your daily diet. Adults need:
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. Over the years, a harmful level of vitamin A can build up in the body. This is because the body stores any vitamin A it doesn't use for future use, which means you do not need to consume it every day.
Having too much vitamin A – more than 1.5mg of vitamin A per day from food and supplements – over many years may make your bones more likely to fracture when you are older.
People who eat liver or liver pâté once a week may be having more than an average of 1.5mg of vitamin A per day. If you eat liver or liver products every week, you may want to consider cutting back or not eating them as often. Also, avoid taking any supplements that contain vitamin A and fish liver oils, which are also high in vitamin A.
Women who have been through the menopause, and older men, should avoid having more than 1.5mg of vitamin A per week from food and supplements.
This means not eating liver and liver products more than once a week, or having smaller portions. It also means not taking any supplements containing vitamin A, including fish liver oil, if they do eat liver once a week. This is because older people are at a higher risk of bone fracture.
Pregnant women should avoid vitamin A supplements and liver and liver products.
Meat can generally be part of a pregnant woman's diet. However, pregnant women should avoid:
Read more in the Pregnancy and baby guide: foods to avoid.
Page last reviewed: Thu May 2018 Next review due: Mon May 2021