The trend of flexitarian eating patterns is on the rise, with young adults among the biggest adopters claiming health and environmental reasons to reduce red meat intake. Nutrient-dense meat and animal products are often the lynchpin of these diets, even when consumed only occasionally and in moderate amounts. Red meat provides forms and concentrations of essential proteins, lipids, and micronutrients that are scarce in exclusively vegetarian regimens.
The aim of this study is to consider the effects of moderate consumption of lean red meat as part of an otherwise vegetarian balanced diet and its impact on biomarkers of sustained health and well-being.
A cohort of healthy, young (20-34 years old, n=80) male and female participants will take part in a 2-arm, parallel randomized controlled trial (RCT) for a duration of 12 weeks, with a 3-month posttrial follow-up. The trial will commence with a 2-week assessment period followed by allocation to the intervention arms. The intervention will include the consumption of red meat or meat alternatives 3 times per week for 10 weeks. Blood samples of the participants will be collected to measure changes in erythrocyte fatty acid distribution, circulating amino acids, neurotransmitters, markers of mineral status, and inflammatory markers. Questionnaires to assess well-being and mental health will be undertaken every 2 weeks. Body composition, physical function, and blood parameters will be assessed at allocation (t 0), week 5 into the intervention (t 5), and post intervention (t 10).
The protocol has been developed using the SPIRIT (Standard Protocol Items: Recommendations for Interventional Trials) checklist and the outcomes will be reported in accordance with the CONSORT (Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials) guidelines. The trial was approved by the New Zealand Ministry of Health’s Health and Disability Ethics Committees (protocol 20/STH/157). The results of this study will be communicated via publication.
To our knowledge, this is the first RCT investigating the overarching health consequences of consuming pasture-fed red meat or no meat as part of a healthy diet.