Women who ate the recommended amounts of red meat, including beef and lamb, were less likely to suffer depression and anxiety than those who did not, according to new Australian research.
Study leader, associate professor Felice Jacka, said:“When we looked at women consuming less than the recommended amount of red meat in our study, we found that they were twice as likely to have a diagnosed depressive or anxiety disorder as those consuming the recommended amount.
“We already know that the overall quality of your diet is important to mental health. But it seems that eating a moderate amount of lean red meat, which is roughly three to four small, palm-sized serves a week, may also be important.”
Jacka said red meat’s mental health benefits applied regardless of other factors. “Even when we took into account the overall healthiness of the women’s diets, as well as other factors such as their socioeconomic status, physical activity levels, smoking, weight and age, the relationship between low red meat intake and mental health remained,” she said.
No link was discovered between mental health and other proteins such as chicken, pork, fish and plant protein.
Vegetarianism had no effect either. Only 19 women were vegetarian and the results remained the same when they were excluded from the analysis.
The research attributed the results to the grass diet of most Australian cattle and sheep compared with the grain-based diet of herds and flocks elsewhere. “Red meat in Australia is a healthy product as it contains high levels of nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids that are important for to mental and physical health,” said Jacka.
But the researchers said that eating more than the recommended rate of red meat could be as bad for mental health as eating too little.
The Australian government recommends eating 65-100g of lean red meat three or four times a week.
In the UK, the Department of Health recommends eating no more than 70g of red meat a day.
The study, conducted at Deakin University’s Barwon Psychiatric Research Unit in Melbourne, Australia, was published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.
It follows a controversial report earlier this month, which claimed eating a diet rich in red meat increased the risk of a shortened life expectancy.
Eating an extra portion of unprocessed red meat to a person’s daily diet increased the risk of death by 13%, according to the research by Harvard Medical School. An extra portion was the equivalent to two rashers of bacon or one hot dog.
But Dr Carrie Ruxton from the Meat Advisory Panel said that the study could not be used to determine cause and effect because it was observational, not controlled.
Ruxton said: “In summary, this paper should not be used to persuade people from reducing their current intake of red meat when it provides essential nutrients that are required as part of a healthy balanced diet.”
Victoria Taylor, the British Heart Foundation’s senior heart health dietician, said:“The study does not differentiate between leaner and fattier cuts of meat, so it would be useful to know if the association is the same when this is taken into account.”
Red meat can still be eaten as part of a balanced diet, she said, advising consumers to choose the leaner cuts and healthier cooking methods such as grilling.
To read the report, click here.