Meat: a chewy topic…….

For the dedicated carnivores amongst us, there’s nothing more delectable than a tender portion of medium rare steak, with juices oozing, rich aromas wafting and mutterings of “cuts like butter….just falls apart” completing the perfect picture.  For the seemingly growing number of herbivores, this is a joy happily bypassed; with the exploration of ancient grains, superfoods and a rainbow of vegetables to play with. Whilst the love of steak outweighs health warnings for carnivores; vegetarians, pescatarians and vegans subscribe to the belief that a meat-free existence will see them living longer, healthier and conscience-free lives.

Meat has been a part of the human diet as far back as the history of food informs us and it serves an important role. Lean red meats are a good source of iron, zinc and B12 and these nutrients transported within meat are easily absorbed. During infancy and for adolescent girls, pregnant women, menstruating women and endurance athletes, meat is probably the easiest and most efficient way of delivering these important nutrients needed for growth and the extra demands brought about by menstruation and athletic stress. The iron (referred to as “haem iron”) and zinc in animal foods is more readily absorbed by the body than in plant foods (which has “non-haem iron”) such as nuts, seeds and legumes. Although lean red meat provides a very good source of nutrients, consumption of greater than 100/120g per day, is associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer and renal cancer.

In a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), 22 experts from 10 countries reviewed more than 800 studies on meat consumption and its impact on health. They found that eating 50 grams of processed meat a day increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. About 4 strips of bacon or 1 hot dog equals a 50g serve. For red meat, there was evidence of increased risk of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer. What does this mean? Well, the lifetime risk of someone developing colon cancer is 5%. To put the numbers into perspective, the increased risk from eating the amount of processed meat in the study (over 100g) would raise average lifetime risk to almost 6%. So while the recommendation is to limit red meat consumption, the occasional hot dog or hamburger is perfectly fine.

The IARC and all other health groups still recognize the role and function of meat in our diet and their advice is not to eliminate red and processed meats from the diet, but to exercise moderation in the consumption of red meats and limit the frequency of processed meat intake.

iarc meat


This diagram shows that processed meat has been classed as a ‘definite’ cause of cancer (or Group 1 carcinogen) which is actually the same group for smoking and alcohol. Red meat falls into the ‘probable’ cause of cancer classification (or a Group 2a carcinogen). Before you go throwing all your bacon and meat out of the fridge, it is important to note that these classifications relate how confident IARC is about the link to cancer, but it does not indicate how much cancer they cause. So if you eat red meat and bacon, it doesn’t mean you will develop cancer.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) devised this guideline for managing red and processed meat consumption, with an idea of how to cut back:

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The Cancer Council of Australia recommends:

  • Moderate consumption of unprocessed lean red meat. A moderate amount of meat is 65–100 g of cooked red meat, 3–4 times a week;
  • Limiting or avoiding processed meats such as sausages, frankfurts, salami, bacon and ham, which are high in fat and salt;
  • Limiting consumption of burnt or charred meat; and
  • Choosing lean cuts of meat and chicken, and eating more fish and plenty of plant based foods such as fruit, vegetables and wholegrain cereals

You can read more about this topic on their website:

Here are some simple suggestions to cut down on red meat in the diet:

  • Halve the amount of meat you put into your bolognaise sauce and add red kidney beans or 5 bean mix, mushrooms, and an array of vegetables to bulk up the sauce.
  • Take a night off meat each week and try a veggie based recipe instead (see our suggestions)
  • Eat a fish meal two to three times a week
  • Try a salmon benny for your next weekend breakfast option (see recipe below)
  • Discover the joys of smashed avo with a poached egg on top for your next fancy breakfast

Remember, if you take the meat out, or you cut down on the portion, always replace it with something else so that you don’t skimp on important nutrients nor feel deprived. Choosing iron rich vegetables and legumes, and eating these with a source of vitamin C like a glass of orange juice (which boosts iron absorption) will help to ensure your iron intake remains adequate.



  • One English muffin halved and toasted
  • Half an avocado – mashed with a fork and sprinkled with juice of half a lemon and a pinch of pepper
  • 2-3 slices of fresh smoked salmon
  • 2 poached eggs
  • Optional – a spoonful of thick Greek yogurt or ricotta


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  • 1 medium to large roasted and peeled beet (place in oven unpeeled for 25mins, allow to cool then rub off skin)
  • 2/3 cup low fat milk (or alternative like almond milk)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon oil like olive oil
  • 1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 2/3 cup self raising or gf flour
  • 1/3 cup quick oats
  1. Preheat pan over medium-low heat. Coat lightly with cooking oil.
  2. In a blender or nutribullet style blender, puree beet with milk until no lumps remain. Add egg, oil, and yogurt- blend for several seconds to combine.
  3. Add flour, oats, and pulse a few times or stir in with a spatula taking care not to over blend. Some lumps are okay.
  4. Place spoonfuls onto pan (they should be about 10cm diameter). When bubbles pop on the surface, flip and continue to cook through.

Serve in a stack of 3-4 with carrot or sweet potato puree, fresh baby spinach, mashed avocado, and a spoon of ricotta mixed with fresh mint and a wedge of lime.


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  • 400 gm fresh skinless white-fleshed fish fillets, such as flathead, barramundi or mulloway, cut into large cubes
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lemon, juice only
  • 8 soft corn or wheat tortillas
  • 80 gm (1 cup) shredded red cabbage
  • 150 gm (½ cup) mayonnaise

Tomato salsa

3 ripe tomatoes, diced 2 tbsp coarsely chopped coriander 2 tbsp lime juice 1 small red chilli, finely chopped (optional), 2 tsp olive oil


2 avocado, coarsely chopped 60 ml (¼ cup) lime juice, 3 spring onions, thinly sliced 2 tbsp coarsely chopped coriander


  • For tomato salsa, combine ingredients in a bowl, season to taste and set aside.
  • For guacamole, coarsely mash ingredients in a bowl with a fork, season to taste, set aside.
  • Meanwhile, fire up the barbecue or a char-grill pan over high heat. Season fish to taste, drizzle with olive oil and a little lemon juice, then grill, turning once, until just cooked (8-10 minutes).
  • Meanwhile, quickly toast tortillas on the barbecue, turning once, until warmed slightly (1-2 minutes). Top with grilled fish, red cabbage, guacamole, a squeeze of mayo and tomato salsa to finish, then wrap them up and eat them straight away.

This recipe is from the February 2010 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller



  • ½ packet              Dried pasta – spaghetti
  • 20ml                     Olive oil
  • 1 whole                Onion
  • 2-3 cloves            Garlic
  • 1 medium            Carrot
  • 1 stick                   Celery
  • ½ bulb                  Fennel
  • 100g                      Beef mince lean
  • 1-2 tins (600g)    Tinned tomato
  • 100g                      Can of Red kidney beans or bean mix- fluid drained
  • 1tbs                      Tomato paste
  • 1                            Red capsicum
  • 1                            Shredded zucchini
  • 3-4                        Mushrooms (button)
  • 1 cup                    Kale or silverbeet
  • ½ head                 Broccoli
  • Handful                fresh basil


1-2 spoon fulls of Black olives, Fresh Rocket, Parmesan cheese


Cook pasta according to instructions on label (note: I always remove it from the heat and drain approx. 2 mins before instructed as the pasts will keep cooking. Ensure to save some of the cooking water to replace into the drained pasta to prevent stickiness).

Place all ingredients into the saucepan together, except for the parmesan and olives. Bring to boiling point then turn down to simmer for 20 mins. Pour over the cooked pasta and serve in bowls. Toss in olives to taste and sprinkle with parmesan as desired.

Note: this is equally tasty without the meat as a veggie only option!