Cutting back on meat and dairy could increase health risks - AHDB

Reducing meat or dairy could lead to iron deficiency
calendar icon 23 August 2022
clock icon 4 minute read

UK health experts are warning increased cost of living pressures this autumn could lead to consumers missing out on key nutrients, including Vitamin B12 and iron, due to a lack of balance in their diet, according to the UK's Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB).

The stark warning comes as a study by Public First states more than one in four consumers (28%) are eating less meat to try and save money.

New findings – taken from an AHDB survey and released in line with World Iron Awareness Week (22nd-28th August 2022) reveal one in three (33%) agree the current cost of living crisis has made their diet less healthy overall.

This has prompted health experts to back AHDB’s We Eat Balanced campaign, which returns on 7 September to highlight to consumers the importance of enjoying a balanced diet, including red meat and dairy, some of the most nutrient dense foods available.

Award-winning dietician Priya Tew and food security expert Professor Nigel Scollan have lent their support to the campaign, along with NHS doctor and author Emily MacDonagh.

“Along with dairy products, meat is also a natural source of B12, which is an essential nutrient that helps not only to reduce tiredness and fatigue but also to protect our immune system,” said Tew.

“B12 can also not naturally be found in foods of plant origin which could become more challenging for those facing increased pressure on their household food budgets.”

Professor Scollan, a director of the Institute for Global Food Security and professor of Animal Science at Queens University, Belfast added: “Meat contains up to nine micronutrients and milk contains seven, some of which can be difficult to obtain from other food sources and particular fractions of the population may be exposed to deficiencies including younger females (iron) and the elderly (Vitamin B12 and protein – sarcopenia).

“The We Eat Balanced campaign highlights the importance of eating a balanced diet and within it, focuses on the value meat and dairy can play in people’s diets and emphasises their role in providing natural sources of these key nutrients.”

According to National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) data, almost half of girls and young women aged 11 to 18 suffer from low intakes of iron, with one in 10 living with low iron status. Low intakes of iron affects a quarter of young women aged 19 to 25 years old while one in 20 have low iron status.

MacDonagh will be highlighting this issue during Iron Awareness Week in a series of portraits which see her body painted to appear as if she was made out of iron.

“The fact that so many women and girls are already affected by low iron levels or suspect they may be iron deficient is worrying and the symptoms - including tiredness and lack of energy - can impact daily life,” she said.

“Eating a balanced diet is key to helping us get the wide range of nutrients that our bodies need, and there are plenty of cost-effective options available too.”

The pictures of MacDonagh are being released to mark the return of the We Eat Balanced campaign alongside research which reveals 35% of women have been diagnosed with an iron deficiency, while 7% suspect they are deficient but are yet to be diagnosed.

The research also highlights concern amongst parents of girls and young women aged 11 to 18, with over a quarter (27%) knowing or suspecting their daughter may be iron deficient and 95% saying they are concerned about the impact of iron deficiency on their daughter’s health.

Symptoms of iron deficiency include tiredness and lack of energy. Shortness of breath, heart palpitations and pale skin are other signs.[2]

AHDB’s Director of Marketing Liam Byrne says the We Eat Balanced campaign highlights to consumers some of the ways they can maintain a healthy, balanced diet despite having additional pressures on their shopping budgets, for example through the expected rise in energy prices.

“The increasing cost of living is likely to mean more people becoming reliant on lower cost foods which tend to be calorie dense and nutrient poor, further increasing diet-related disease,” he said.

“We aim to shine a spotlight on some positive food choices that consumers can make, when doing their weekly shop. Milk is such an affordable and nutrient dense food, while meats like beef, lamb and pork contain up to nine vitamins, including Vitamin B12, which you won’t find naturally in vegetables alone.”

AHDB’s We Eat Balanced campaign, launches again on 7 September and focuses on three key messages:

  • Meat and dairy is a source of Vitamin B12, which isn’t naturally present in plant-based foods
  • The UK has world-class production standards
  • Red meat and dairy from Britain is amongst the most sustainable in the world

“It’s also reassuring to know the next time you’re doing your weekly shop and choose some red meat and dairy from Britain, not only is it nutritionally superior to other food groups, but you are also choosing a product with some of the lowest carbon footprints and highest food standards in the world,” added Byrne.

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