Meat, your maker

Go on, admit it: sometimes you finish a hard training session with a craving for a massive juicy burger or a mighty slab of steak, unless you’re a vegetarian, in which case you never have, or would never admit to, any such desire. Ever. No matter how good it smells. But if you are a meat eater, you should know the facts about red meat and how to incorporate it into your diet.

“Red meat is a wonderful source of nutrients,” says Roberta Anding, from the American Dietetic Association. It’s packed with vitamin B12 (which helps metabolise energy), iron (which transports oxygen to muscles) and zinc (which bolsters the immune system). Red meat gets a lot of bad press and it can have its nutritional drawbacks, but not if you choose wisely.

Your Concern: “Doesn’t it cause heart disease?”
Our Answer: It depends what you’re eating
In a meta analysis of 20 studies researchers at Harvard University found that processed meats such as bacon and sausages could increase the risk of cardiovascular disease by 42 per cent. But they didn’t find an increased risk from the consumption of unprocessed beef, pork and lamb. “This indicates that lean beef can, in fact, be part of a heart-healthy diet,” says Anding.

Your Concern: “It’s full of saturated fat”
Our Answer: Not if you choose lean cuts
“Certain cuts are almost as lean as chicken,” says Anding. “Select those with ‘round’ or ‘loin’ in their names.” Avoid the fattier cuts, such as pork belly, ribs or lamb shanks – and when buying mince choose the leanest option you can find. Most commercially raised cattle eat grain, which accelerates muscle growth, yields more meat and improves marbling (which also ups its saturated-fat content). Grass-fed meat, however, has a healthier fatty-acid profile, a lower overall fat content and is higher in cancer-fighting antioxidants such as glutathione and omega 3 fats.

Your Concern: “It causes bowel cancer”
Our Answer: Season it
Cooked meats produce carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs), and meat oxidizes as it’s digested – which can cause DNA damage linked to cancer. But recent studies have found that certain seasonings (such as rosemary, turmeric and Thai spices) can inhibit these cancer-causing processes. Try a spicy rub with turmeric, yellow curry powder and cinnamon to taste.

Your Concern: “It’s far too heavy”
Our Answer: Mix it up
Instead of seeing red meat as the meal’s centrepiece, use it as an accent in vegetable-rich dishes. One idea: stir-fry strips of sirloin with broccoli, carrots and red pepper, then serve with brown rice. Or mix a little meat into a serving of black beans for fibre-rich burritos. Even burgers can be cut with vegetables: fold chopped mushrooms into minced beef before forming it into burgers.