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How does a red meat-heavy diet affect gut health?

Grilled beef marbled steak. Chuck eye roll on the cutting Board. White background. Top view.
Eating too much red meat can lead to a number of health issues. (Getty Images)

There’s little doubt that meat is a central part of British cuisine, with big joints of meat taking centre stage during festive occasions and steak still being largely considered the pièce de résistance for fancy meals.

While red meat can form part of a healthy diet, medical experts usually warn against eating too much of it. However, director Guy Ritchie has revealed he eats steaks nearly every single day of the week.

The Sherlock Holmes director, 55, said in an appearance on Ruthie’s Table 4 podcast that he consumes red meat "five or six days a week".

"Usually what I eat is a rib-eye five or six days a week and I’ll play with other things, but in the end, it’s easy for me to cook," he said.

Going into detail about what he liked about this particular cut of steak, Ritchie continued: "I like the fat, I like the crispiness of the fat, it seems to be the right ratio of fat and meat for me. I want it to be crispy and then I’m in heaven and it never gets boring."

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 15: Guy Ritchie attends the UK Premiere of
Guy Ritchie says he eats rib-eye steaks nearly every day. (Getty Images)

Although Ritchie’s diet might seem like heaven for meat lovers, doctors warn that consuming large quantities of red meat can cause harm to your health.

Although meat is a good source of protein and vitamins, the Department of Health and Social Care advises that you cut your intake down to 70g (cooked weight) or red or processed meat a day if you currently eat more than 90g.

A standard rib-eye steak weighs around 283g to 340g, but larger cuts can weigh up to 454g.

The gut health impact of high red meat consumption

Dr James East, gastroenterologist at Mayo Clinic Healthcare in London, tells Yahoo UK that excessive consumption of red meat is “not specifically good for gut health”.

"Having a diet that is predominantly red meat (or any specific foodstuff at all) is certainly likely in the long-term to be counter-productive," he explains.

"A broad, balanced diet containing meat, plant-based foods and vegetables supports a diverse gut microbiome and better gut health."

Scientists are encouraging people to eat a diverse diet with plenty of plant variety, as studies have shown that consuming different types of fibre and prebiotics can fuel good bacteria in the gut.

Epidemiologist and co-founder of nutrition platform ZOE, Tim Spector, has said previously that people should try and eat 30 different plants a week to maintain a healthy gut.

Instead of digging into a steak everyday, Dr East recommends replacing red meat with other foods that are high in iron and protein.

"Lean white meats, such as chicken or fish, and plant-based alternatives are good options," he says.

Other risks of eating too much red meat

According to the NHS, some meats are high in fat, particularly saturated fat which can raise cholesterol levels in the blood.

High cholesterol raises the risk of developing coronary heart disease. The risk of stroke can also be elevated.

A variety of meat in the butcher shop.
Red meat can be a good source of proteins and vitamins, but doctors say eating in moderation is the way to go. (Getty Images)

Dr East adds that excess consumption of red meat is related to the risk of some cancers, including bowel cancer.

The NHS states on its website that eating a lot of red and processed meat - which refers to meat that has been preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding preservatives - "probably increases your risk of bowel (colorectal) cancer".

In 2019, researchers found that processed meat preserved with sodium nitrite was linked to cancer. Scientists from Queen’s University Belfast said that "a strong link exists between nitrite-containing processed meat, such as frankfurters, and colorectal cancer".

In terms of diet, Dr East recommends a Mediterranean diet that contains less red meat, more white meat and vegetables to maintain your overall health.

"Red meat is best eaten in moderation and in small amounts, so this shouldn’t be every day," he says. "Three ounces of red meat per day, at most, is suggested."

How do you choose healthier options when eating out?

On the occasion you're treating yourself to a meal in a restaurant, it can get a little tricky to know which options might be healthier than others.

Data from restaurant booking platform OpenTable revealed that more than half (57%) of Britons plan on eating more healthily, but a higher proportion (66%) find it challenging to find restaurants that align with their health goals.

To help diners navigate a menu in search of healthier options, leading nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert, who is the founder of Rhitrition, partnered with OpenTable for the launch of the platform's Top 100 Restaurants with Healthy Bites list.

She shared her top tips, which include:

  • Say hello to whole grains: Whole grains contain high levels of fibre, which promotes satiety and gut health, which may contribute to a more satisfying dining experience. Look for dishes that incorporate foods like brown rice, quinoa, or whole wheat foods like pasta and couscous.

  • Switch up your protein: If your go to is always a meat dish, why not try plant-based alternative proteins such as tofu, tempeh, and legumes. These foods can offer a wide variety of nutrients and are often prepared in diverse and delicious ways.

  • Method on the mind: Opt for grilled, baked, or steamed dishes to retain nutritional goodness without the potential addition of unnecessary saturated fat. These methods not only preserve flavours but may also prevent the breakdown of some key nutrients in your food.

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