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Promoting flexitarianism is misleading - dietician

By Nicholas Robinson+

01-Aug-2014
Last updated on 01-Aug-2014 at 12:02 GMT

Almost a third of global consumers were choosing to limit their meat intake
Almost a third of global consumers were choosing to limit their meat intake

A leading dietician has rubbished claims backing consumers ditching meat from their diets for health and environmental reasons and becoming flexitarians.

New research from analysts at insight company Datamonitor claimed meat avoidance from consumers is threatening a high-protein diet trend, as consumers around the world limited their intake of meat.

Almost a third (31%) of global consumers were choosing to limit their meat intake, said Tanvi Savara, food and drink analyst at Datamonitor. This also indicated a rising trend towards flexitarianism – a diet consisting mostly of plants, she added.

“An important factor is also that consumers are increasingly conscious of the negative health impacts associated with a diet rich in protein,” said Savara.

‘Driving the flexitarianism trend’

“Greater awareness about the negative health implications of the overconsumption of meat is a key factor in driving the flexitarianism trend by choosing to limit their intake of meat and animal products.”

Dr Carrie Ruxton, a dietician on the industry-funded Meat Advisory Panel, quashed Savara’s statement as “misleading”.

“Consumers persuaded to lower their meat consumption by negative media stories are, unfortunately being misled,” Ruxton told FoodManufacture.co.uk.

Most ‘new’ research on meat came from re-analyses of “historic” US dietary surveys, which had no relevance to the amounts or types of meat eaten in Europe, she argued.

‘Skewed perspective’

“In addition, these studies often combine fatty meat products and lean meat in the same dietary category, which gives skewed perspective,” claimed Ruxton.

Earlier this year, the National Diet and Nutrition Survey showed the average daily red meat intake for UK adults was 71g. This was in line with the 70g recommended daily intake for good health by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, she said.

“Lean red meat is moderately low in fat, but is rich in protein, B vitamins and key minerals, such as iron, selenium and zinc,” explained Ruxton.

“A healthy diet can include regular amounts of red meat, so most people do not have to reduce their consumption if they enjoy eating meat.”

Savara said food manufacturers were likely to capitalise on the flexitarianism trend by lowering the amount of meat in their products and adding more vegetables and pulses.

“Research by Datamonitor shows a growth in the proportion of meat-free ready meal launches over the last five years,” she added.

“This suggests that the segment of consumers adopting a flexitarianism mentality will increase in the years ahead and become a significant concern for meat manufacturers.”

Extremely important

Yet, Ruxton maintained meat was an extremely important part of the diet for the following reasons:

  • Red meat provides the most bioavailable source of iron and zinc
  • 20% of women and nearly half of teenage girls have diets that contain inadequate amounts of iron (below the Lower Reference Nutrient Intake)
  • Low iron body stores and iron deficiency are more common in people who do not eat red meat
  • Saturated fat levels in red meat have reduced drastically since the 1950s. A 100g serving of lean beef or pork now contains just 4g of fat when raw.

Meanwhile, food trends agency The Food People cited flexitarianism as the next ‘mega trend’, which would boost the sales of vegetarian foods by 10% by 2016.

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