Recommendations by age and gender

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend 455g/week of cooked red meat to meet iron and zinc requirements in the Australian diet.

Iron-rich foods such as red meat are recommended from six months of age in the Infant Feeding Guidelines, starting from 120g/week and increasing progressively to 455g/week at nine years of age (see Table 1).

Other than red meat and fish (which is recommended twice a week), the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating does not provide any specific advice regarding frequency of consumption for other foods in the ‘lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, legumes/beans group’.

Table 1: Amounts (g) of cooked red meat required to meet iron and zinc requirements by age and gender
AgeWeekly targetTimes/week
6 – 12 months 120g 30g x 4
13 months – 3 years 227.5g 65g x 3.5
4 – 8 years 325g 65g x 5
9 to 50 years 455g 65g x 7
51 – 70 + years 455g (men)
195g (women)*
65g x 7 (men)
65g x 3 (women)

*Iron requirements decrease after menopause

Evidence underpinning red meat recommendation

The type of foods used in the modelling to translate the Nutrient Reference Values was informed by food choices contributing to nutrient intakes in the last national nutrition survey, along with epidemiological evidence on diet and disease relationships, including cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Red meat was modelled separately from poultry, fish, eggs and legumes because red meat, in particular beef and lamb are important sources of iron and zinc in the Australian diet.

Red meat is defined as beef/veal, lamb/mutton, pork, kangaroo, goat and venison. Although pork has less iron and zinc compared to other meats within the red meat category, and beef and lamb are the main sources of bioavailable iron and zinc in the Australian diet, pork was classified as a red meat to reflect the international epidemiological evidence.

Processed meats such as ham, bacon, sausages and deli or luncheon meats are not recommended, however, lean, lower salt sausages may be included as part of the 455g/week recommendation.

Ideal amount for health and wellbeing

A limit of 455g/week is recommended in recognition of epidemiological evidence suggesting regular consumption of greater than 100-120g/day of cooked red meat is associated with increased risk of colorectal cancer.

Hence, 455g/week of cooked red meat is the ideal amount required for good health and lower amounts risk compromising iron and zinc requirements, particularly for those with higher needs. There is evidence that infants, toddlers, teenage girls and women of child-bearing age find it difficult to meet iron requirements and older men, zinc requirements.

There is also emerging evidence that higher protein combined with progressive resistance training, preferably from nutrient-rich food sources, such as beef and lamb, improves muscle health.