Red Meat, is it really good or not for you?
Updated: Sep 24
Red Meat is one of the most controversial food in the history of nutrition.
Although humans have been eating it throughout evolution, many people believe it can cause harm, but is it true?
People have been eating meat throughout evolution and have digestive systems well equipped to handle it.
However, the meat consumed today is different from the meat people ate in the past when animals roamed free and ate grass, insects, or other foods natural to them.
The meat from these animals is different than the meat derived from a cow that was born and raised in a factory, fed grain-based feed, and given growth-promoting hormones and antibiotics.
Today, some meat products are highly processed after the animals have been butchered. They are smoked, cured, then treated with nitrates, preservatives, and various chemicals.
Therefore, it is very important to distinguish between different types of meat:
Processed meat: These products, like sausages and bacon, are usually from conventionally raised cows, then go through various processing methods.
Conventional red meat: Conventional red meats are fairly unprocessed, but the cows are usually factory farmed. Meats that are red when raw are defined as red meats like lamb, beef, pork, and some others.
White meat: Meats that are white when cooked are defined as white meats. This includes meat from poultry like chicken and turkey.
Grass-fed, organic meat: This meat comes from animals that have been naturally fed and raised organically, without drugs and hormones. They also don’t have any artificial chemicals added.
It’s important to consider that there is a distinction between different kinds of meat. For example, grass-fed and organic meat is nutritionally different than factory-farmed, processed meat.
Red meat is a nutritious food, loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and various other nutrients that can have profound effects on health.
A 100 grams portion of raw ground beef (10% fat) contains:
Vitamin B3 (niacin)
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin): unattainable from plant foods
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
Iron: which is absorbed much better than iron from plants
Plenty of other vitamins and minerals in smaller amounts
Red meat is also rich in important nutrients like creatine and carnosine which have an important effect on muscle and brain functions.
Grass-fed beef is even more nutritious than grain-fed beef, containing plenty of heart-friendly omega-3s, the fatty acid CLA and large amounts of vitamins A and E.
There are several studies on the effects of red meat on health, which show an association between red meat and greater risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and death, but most of them are observational, which means they are designed to detect associations, but cannot prove causation.
Nevertheless, not all red meat has the same health effects.
The association between red meat and increased risk of heart disease, death, and diabetes, was found in processed meat, but not in unprocessed red meat.
Many observational studies show that red meat consumption is associated with an increased risk of cancer especially colorectal cancer, but the risk looks very low and most related to the cooking method than the ultimate health effect of meat.
These studies, which are plagued by various confounding factors though, can tell us that individuals who eat a lot of red meat are more likely to get sick, but they cannot prove that red meat is the cause.
For example, people who eat red meat are less health-conscious and more likely to smoke, drink excessively, eat more sugar, exercise less, etc.
Another problem with observational studies is that they’re usually based on food frequency questionnaires, in which people are expected to remember what they ate in the past.
In terms of benefits, as a rich protein source, red meat can also benefit muscle growth in people doing strength exercises.
Red meat also decreased the levels of the inflammatory marker IL-6.
However, more studies need to examine whether it affects hard endpoints like heart disease and cancer. The roles of cooking methods and processing techniques also need to be studied further.
When meat is cooked at a high temperature, but this is applied to other foods as well heated excessively, it can form harmful compounds.
These include heterocyclic amines (HAs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and advanced glycation end-products (AGEs).
These substances can cause cancer in animals.
Here are some tips to ensure your meat doesn’t form these harmful substances:
1. Use gentler cooking methods like stewing and steaming instead of grilling and frying.
2. Minimize cooking at high heat and never expose your meat to a flame.
3. Do not eat charred and/or smoked food. If your meat is burnt, cut away the charred pieces.
4. If you marinate your meat in garlic, red wine, lemon juice, or olive oil, it can reduce HAs significantly.
5. If you must cook at high heat, flip your meat frequently to prevent it from burning.
Many people love the taste of fried and grilled meat. But if you want to enjoy meat and receive the full benefits without any of the potentially harmful consequences, use gentler cooking methods and avoid burnt meat.
So the question is: can we have a good steak sometimes and stay healthy?
As long as you choose unprocessed and preferably grass-fed red meat, make sure to use gentler cooking methods and avoid burnt/charred pieces, there probably is nothing to worry about.
Properly cooked red meat is likely healthy.
It’s nutritious and loaded with healthy proteins, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals, along with various nutrients known to positively affect the function of both your body and brain.
So, let’s go for this!
That’s all for now!
PS. Book your free 30 minutes consultation with me on chiaranutrition.co.uk to see how I can help you achieve your goals in terms of health and wellness.