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Eating less than three lean red meat meals per week can reduce risk of heart disease, stroke - review

Eating less than 350 grams of unprocessed red meat - or around three lean red meat meals per week - can reduce New Zealanders' risk of heart disease and stroke, according to a review released yesterday by the Heart Foundation. 

Steak (file picture). Source: istock.com

The review of evidence - supported by the New Zealand charity's Expert Nutrition Group - also found that each additional 100g of red meat eaten per day was associated with a 15 per cent higher risk of heart disease and a 12 per cent higher risk of stroke, Heart Foundation chief adviser for food and nutrition Dave Monro said in a statement.

The review also found that replacing red meat with plant-based protein options is better for a healthier heart.

"Red meat can certainly be part of a healthy diet but replacing red meat with alternatives such as beans, chickpeas, soy and nuts has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels - a key risk factor for heart disease," Monro said. 

It found that chicken was neutral for heart health, with poultry neither necessarily causing harm or providing the same benefits as those found in plant-based options. 

"While chicken is another important protein source in the New Zealand diet, we need to have a variety options in a heart healthy diet and include beans, chickpeas, nuts, seeds and fish – and foods that have all been shown to help prevent heart disease," he said. 

The review is part of the foundation's "ongoing commitment to support Kiwis to improve their nutrition, prevent heart disease and improve the quality of life for the 170,000 New Zealanders living with heart disease", which Monro called "New Zealand’s single biggest killer".

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Processed meats, such as ham and sausages, were not included in the review following substantial evidence linking processed meat intake with colorectal cancer.

People looking to reduce their meat intake have been urged to begin with a meat-free meal once a week; be inspired by other cultures; boost their meals with plants by mixing in legumes and extra vegetables; focus on quality over quantity; look for less fat or cuts with visible fat that is easy to removed; and to keep an eye on portion size.

The Heart Foundation's new position statement is consistent with advice from the World Cancer Research Fund and the Australian Heart Foundation on red meat and poultry.