Why a Big Mac is sometimes healthier than a roast beef dinner

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

We've grown up with spaghetti bolognese, fry-ups and steak and chips. But according to new guidelines, we are cooking our way to a health crisis.

Separating an Englishman from his roast beef was never going to be popular. Like the French and their vin rouge or the Indians and their cricket, yesterday's advice that we should make do with less of it was bound to provoke cries of anguish.

The latest findings, from researchers at Harvard Medical School in the US, who carried out one of the largest studies of the link between red meat and heart disease and cancer, suggest it is even worse for us than had been thought.

A single extra daily portion of lamb or beef or pork raises your risk of dying from heart disease by 18 per cent and from cancer by 10 per cent. Processed meat – bacon, sausages, salami – increases the risk still further, by 21 per cent for heart disease and 16 per cent for cancer per extra daily serving. What's a red-blooded carnivore supposed to do? The answer is: eat more imaginatively. The warnings on eating red and processed meat have been sounded for more than five years and they are worth heeding because of the central place animal flesh occupies in the typical Western diet.

The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, a Government quango, last year suggested that consumption should be limited to an average of 70g a day of red meat – or about 500g a week. That advice is reinforced by the Harvard research.

What will shock many meat lovers is how easy it is to exceed this level. A typical English breakfast, including two sausages and two rashers of bacon, weighs in at around 130g of meat. Spaghetti bolognese is about 140g, a 5oz rump steak just over 100g and a typical Sunday roast serving 90g. Only a McDonald's Big Mac comes in at 70g – because the two "meat patties" it contains are so thin.

Cutting down on these amounts is not a practical option. It would leave too many diners hungry. If the meat element is to be reduced it must be replaced with something else. That could be white meat (chicken, turkey) fish or vegetables.

The simplest advice is not to abandon meat but to think more like the peoples of the Mediterranean do, where the bulk of the meal comes from vegetables and carbohydrate – pasta or rice – and meat is used more as a relish than a main ingredient.

Die-hard carnivores will protest that man has been eating meat for millennia and is not about to stop now. In fact, we probably eat more meat than our ancestors, and we live longer so have more time to develop cancer.

But this is not about becoming a nation of vegetarians. That would be unrealistic. Roast beef lovers won't be satisfied by a diet of green leaves, pulses, fruit and nuts. It is about the direction of travel, not the destination. We should be aiming to reduce our meat consumption and to increase our consumption of fruit and vegetables.

Instead, we are on the opposite trajectory – meat consumption is 50 per cent up since the 1960s. Most of that is chicken, admittedly. We eat less red meat than we did – and much less than the Americans. But in terms of overall meat consumption, we are not even going in the right direction.

There is another reason for making the change, and one not only based on self-interest. Raising animals is a very inefficient way of producing food. It takes 8kg of grain to produce 1kg of beef.

Large tracts of forest have been cleared for grazing land that could have been used to grow crops and reduce world hunger. Thinking more like a vegetarian could not only save our own lives – it might help save others.

Why the Big Mac is OK

Under guidelines issued by the Scientific Advisory Commission on Nutrition, adults should eat no more than 70g of red and processed meat per day. Of the six meals in our gallery, the only one that does not contain too much is the Big Mac.

Click here to launch gallery

 

Meal 1: Cooked breakfast Too much

Two standard sausages and two thin rashers of bacon.

Total meat content: 130g

 

Meal 2: Spaghetti bolognese Too much

Standard portion of minced beef: 140g

 

Meal 3: Doner kebab Too much

Containing several slices of processed marinated lamb: 130g

 

Meal 4: 5oz rump steak Too much

A 5oz steak is smaller than a typical restaurant serving: 102g

 

Meal 5: Big Mac OK

Contains two thin burgers: 70g

 

Meal 6: Sunday roast Too much

Assumes three slices meat: 90g

Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

    Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

    £45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

    Day In a Page

    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
    Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

    Look what's mushrooming now!

    Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
    Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

    Oeuf quake

    Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin