Red meat — does it make you think of essential protein or cholesterol and heart disease?
The average American eats more than 70 pounds of red meat each year. It’s the centerpiece not only of many American dishes, from chili to surf’n’turf, but also of American events and customs. What fun is a barbecue without the ribs, and what kind of 4th of July picnic would you have without the hot dogs and burgers?
Even as we eat all this red meat, we’re faced with an enormous controversy. With Paleos on one side and vegans on the others, we can easily find information that paints red meat as a poison… or as the only thing you really need to eat. It’s not that simple.
Here are the pros and cons of red meat.
What’s wrong with red meat?
- Red meat can be high in saturated fats. While your body does need fat, it is possible to overdo it. Saturated fats can clog arteries, leading to health complications.
- Red meat can also be high in cholesterol. While new studies are calling some earlier ideas about cholesterol into question, that doesn’t mean we want to eat as much as possible.
- Red meat eaten in large quantities is associated with higher levels of colorectal cancer. A pair of studies reported in Harvard Health Publications show the connection with fresh meats as well as processed meats.
- Meat cooked at high temperatures can create chemical reactions leading to high levels of harmful compounds. Processed meats such as salami, smoked ham, or hot dogs may also contain chemicals that are not good for us. However, these factors can also come into play with poultry and even vegetables, which don’t correlate with stomach cancer as processed red meats do, so more research may be needed.
However, not all red meat is equal, from the point of view of health. Think about greasy burgers and bacon, highly processed lunch meats, and chicken fried steak with sausage gravy. Now think about a simple beef stew with plenty of veggies or a lean grilled pork chop. They’re really not the same kind of food, are they? Avoid processed meats, cook thoughtfully, and pay some attention to what you eat with that meat.
What’s good about red meat?
- Red meat is a rich source of vitamins and minerals. Our bodies need vitamins like B12 and Vitamin D in order to function properly, and red meat is a good source of both. However, these vitamins aren’t exclusively found in red meat. You can get these vitamins from dairy and lean meats like chicken or fish.
- Red meat is a good source of protein. These days, getting protein isn’t much of an issue unless you’re vegan or a vegetarian; however it is still important to get enough protein in your diet. Meat, not just red meat, is loaded with protein which an essential part of a healthy diet.
As with practically everything, moderation is key in consuming red meat. If you eat ten ounces of red meat at every meal, yes, red meat is bad for you. However, it’s okay if you eat three or four ounces of red meat once or twice a week. Lean meats like chicken or fish might be a healthier option, but you don’t have to be afraid of consuming red meat. After all, your health isn’t determined by a single type of food that you eat.
Don’t think that if you exercise regularly and make healthy life choices, eating red meat alone will lead you to your doom. On the other side of that, you can’t cut red meat from your diet, eat tons of junk food, and sit on the couch all day and expect to live to be one hundred. There’s a lot more that goes into your health than just a single type of food. It’s a combination of everything you eat, your physical activity, and other life choices that you make.
Ask your healthcare provider if you have concerns about what you should be eating.