Although red meat has a bad reputation researchers say it is possible to enjoy it as part of a well-balanced heathy diet.

A team from the United States Department of Agriculture say those who follow a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruit, vegetables and nuts, can also consume small quantities of lean beef without damaging their heart.

Infact, they found evidence to suggest that following this approach can actually help lower risk factors for developing heart disease, such as high cholesterol.

Dr Jennifer Fleming, assistant teaching professor of nutrition at Penn State, said: “When you create a healthy diet built on fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods, it leaves room for moderate amounts of other foods like lean beef.

“There are still important nutrients in beef that you can benefit from by eating lean cuts like the loin or round, or 93 per cent lean ground beef.”

Previous research has shown a link between eating red meat and an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. But what has not been made clear before, is whether it is the red eat that causes the damage or the diet and lifestyle that the person might engage in alongside their meat eating habits.

Lead researcher Dr David Baer, from the United States Department of Agriculture, said: “This study highlights the importance of including lean beef in a Mediterranean dietary pattern that can yield heart-healthy benefits.”

“The Mediterranean diet is traditionally low in red meat,” Fleming said. “But, knowing that many Americans enjoy red meat, we wanted to examine how combining lean beef with the Mediterranean diet would affect cardiovascular risk markers.”

The trial involved 59 people who were asked to try a different diet for four weeks at a time. At the end of each diet trial they provided a blood sample for the researchers to analyse.

Three of the four diets contained different amounts of lean or extra lean beef and all three Mediterranean diet periods included olive oil and three to six servings of fruits, and six or more servings of vegetables a day.

Dr Fleming said: “Our study helped illustrate the benefits associated with a healthy Mediterranean dietary pattern that embodies balance, variety and the inclusion of nutrient-rich components, which can include low to moderate amounts of lean beef.”

The study findings have been published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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