Experts warn that reducing meat and dairy consumption due to the cost-of-living crisis could lead to a lack of key nutrients, according to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB).

A survey by AHDB shows that 33% of consumers agree that the cost crisis has made their diet less healthy, with the potential risk of low iron and vitamin B12 levels due to a cut in meat and dairy consumption.

Concerns have been raised by health experts, AHDB said, as a study conducted by research consultancy, Public First states that 28% of consumers are eating less meat to save money.

Adults need around 1.5 micrograms (mcg) of B12 per day, which could already be covered by 200ml of semi-skimmed milk providing 1.9mcg, or 100g of raw, lean lamb or beef (2mcg), according to AHDB.

New survey findings were released today (Tuesday, August 23), in line with the World Iron Awareness Week, and ahead of AHDB’s We Eat Balanced campaign which returns next month.

Nutritional value of meat and dairy

Meat and milk contain up to nine and seven micronutrients respectively, according to a director of the Institute for Global Food Security and professor of Animal Science at Queens University Belfast, Prof. Nigel Scollan.

Unlike in meat and dairy, vitamin B12 cannot naturally be found in foods of plant origin, award-winning dietician, Priya Tew said. She explained:

“Along with dairy products, meat is a natural source of B12, which is an essential nutrient that helps not only to reduce tiredness and fatigue but also to protect our immune system.”

35% of women have been diagnosed with an iron deficiency, while 7% suspect they are deficient, which may include symptoms such as tiredness; lack of energy; shortness of breath; heart palpitations; and pale skin.

Younger females and the elderly are at particular risk of being exposed to iron, B12 and protein deficiencies respectively, according to Prof. Scollan.

One in four women in the UK and 49% of girls and young women aged 11-18 already have a low iron intake, data by the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) shows.

A quarter of 19-25-year-old females are affected by low iron intakes, which National Health Service (NHS) doctor, Emily MacDonagh described as “worrying”.

Research by AHDB also highlights concern amongst parents of females aged 11-18, with 27% knowing or suspecting their daughter may be iron deficient, and 95% saying they are concerned about subsequent health impacts.

We Eat Balanced campaign

AHDB’s We Eat Balanced campaign returns on Wednesday, September 7, focusing on meat and dairy as a source of B12, and red meat and dairy production standards in the UK.

Director of marketing at AHDB, Liam Byrne said the campaign highlights some of the ways consumers can maintain a healthy and balanced diet, despite having additional pressures on their shopping budgets.

“The increasing cost of living is likely to mean more people becoming reliant on lower-cost foods, which tend to be calorie dense and nutrient poor, further increasing diet-related disease.

“Milk is such an affordable and nutrient-dense food, while meats like beef, lamb and pork contain up to nine vitamins, which you won’t find naturally in vegetables alone,” he said.