Who would have thought it? After millions of pounds in product recalls, nationwide revulsion and an international search for the guilty men, it seems that the horsemeat many of us have been eating inadvertently may be the new health food, according to scientists.
They find that a couple of portions of horse a week lowers cholesterol and boosts blood iron levels. Researchers say that horsemeat is very high in iron, with one 150g portion providing up to a half of the daily recommended intake, and very low in saturated fats, which are associated with high cholesterol.
Indeed, their study says horse has some of the health-boosting qualities that have been associated with fish, and it has up to 40 per cent fewer calories and more protein than other meats.
In a new study, men aged 20 to 50 ate two 175g portions of horsemeat a week for three months. A second group ate other meat, but avoided horse. Blood samples were taken from all the men for testing at the start of the trial and after 45 and 90 days. Results show that horsemeat consumption significantly reduced levels of total and bad cholesterol. The former dropped by 6 per cent, and bad cholesterol by 9.1 per cent.
"Horsemeat is an important source of omega 3 and iron and, compared to other meats, is very low in saturated fatty acids but rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) like fish and other seafood," say the researchers from the University of Milan. "Regular consumption of horsemeat may improve cholesterol and iron status in healthy people."
Italy is Europe's biggest consumer of horsemeat, with more than 300 registered butchers, and its use has been traced back to the 19th century when, it is claimed, horse flesh was prescribed by doctors for people with iron-deficient anaemia.