Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems

Varied red meat intake offers scope for alternatives

American adults consume red meat in a range of foods, creating opportunities to introduce meat-free substitutions.

Americans’ consumption of red meat is not dominated by any single food type, research has shown, offering potential opportunities to encourage consumers towards alternatives.

Analysis of consumer eating habits from recent nationwide surveys shows that unprocessed red meat was most popularly eaten in the form of burgers, non-minced beef and mixed meat dishes such as meatloaf and shepherd’s pie.

Cold meats, sausages and frankfurters, pizza, and bacon were the most widely eaten forms of processed meat.

The findings may inform efforts to encourage people towards alternatives to red meat. This would help reduce average intake, currently around 450g per adult each week, towards the recommended limit of 100g each week.

Regular habits

A team of researchers including scientists from the Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Security analysed data from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys from 2015/16 and 2017/18. They examined meat intake for 12-19 year-olds and adults of 20 and upwards.

Efforts to encourage people to eat less red meat could initially focus on meat-free alternatives to burgers and pizzas, sausages and hot dogs, and lunch meat sandwiches, the results suggest.

This might be supported through the development of plant-based sandwich meats and pepperoni, or greater uptake of other plant-based proteins such as beans or peanut butter.

Adolescents were found to consume most of their meat from burgers and pizzas purchased at fast-food outlets, which researchers suggest may offer an opportunity to switch to meat-free alternatives.

Many young people may be inspired to eat less meat by their interest in climate change, and lifestyle changes associated with entering adulthood may present a time to adopt new habits.

The study builds on previous research by the same team, showing the extent of red meat consumption across North America.

The ways in which Americans eat meat are quite diverse. While meat-centric foods like burgers are popular, we found that a lot of meat is actually consumed in mixed dishes like casserole or lasagne. This is exciting for behaviour and policy work because it means there are a lot of opportunities to promote healthier, more sustainable plant-based options into the diet beyond, for example, substitutes for a large cut of meat.

Ms Sarah FrankPhD student, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Unlike dairy, for which more than 50 per cent of intake comes from just one food group – milk –  red meat is highly variable. This means there are a lot more opportunities to promote alternatives to red meat. But we need to be careful and closely monitor these alternatives to make sure environmental gains are not traded at the cost of public health, for example, by substituting in peanut butter with added sugar.

Dr Lindsay JaacksUKRI Future Leaders Fellow and Chancellor’s Fellow, the Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Security

This study was funded by the Wellcome Trust’s Our Planet, Our Health programme.

Related links

Scientific publication

Red and processed meat intake high cross North America

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