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Is Red Meat Bad for You?

is red meat bad for you

Humans have always been meat-eaters, but red meat has developed a bit of a bad reputation within the past century. For decades, it’s been said that red meat consumption directly links to health problems like heart disease and diabetes. But lately, new research has emerged to question those initial studies declaring red meat a villain.

A 2019 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine attempted to clear red meat’s name by reporting new findings of “low” evidence to support the claim that red meat is harmful and encouraging people to increase their red meat intake. Its publication immediately met with opposition from others within the scientific community, who took to the internet to express skepticism.

Amid all the opinions online — some more expert than others — it can be hard for the average person to sort between misconceptions and reality. Getting to the facts requires cutting through a lot of half-truths and scientific jargon. And despite all the latest studies floating around, many people are still asking the fundamental question: Is red meat good or bad?

To settle the red meat debate once and for all, we’ll look at the qualities of different types of red meat, the advantages and drawbacks of eating red meat and how to incorporate it into a balanced diet.

what is red meat

What Is Red Meat?

Before we can accurately discuss the pros and cons, we have to define what we mean when we say “red meat.” Any meat from a mammal, like a cow or pig, is red when it’s raw, making it “red meat.” Even though humans have been eating red meat for thousands of years, farming methods have evolved throughout time, and opinions about it have shifted even more.

Red meat started earning a bad reputation decades ago. During this time, the farming industry has also changed, to the detriment of animals’ living conditions. Red meat didn’t receive as much negative press when the animals came from roamed freely and ate the grass and foods most natural to them. But nowadays, animals often spend their entire lives in factories without ever setting foot on a pasture. We feed them a grain-based diet full of antibiotics and growth hormones, which can make their meat more harmful to humans.

It’s possible to alter meat after slaughter, too. Some meat producers treat products like dried beef with chemicals such as nitrates and preservatives to maintain their freshness. These chemicals might keep the meat from spoiling, but they add harmful toxins to the food.

To make sure we’re all on the same page about what kind of meat we’re talking about, here are the main categories.

  • Conventional red meat: Conventional red meat is any meat that’s red when raw, hence the name. These include meat like lamb, pork and beef, which are relatively unprocessed.
  • White meat: The term “white meat” applies to meats that are white when cooked. Poultry, such as chicken and turkey, is the most prevalent kind of white meat.
  • Processed meat: Processed meat starts with meat from conventionally raised animals, then puts it through methods like curing or canning. Sausage and bacon are two of the most popular processed meats.
  • Grass-fed organic meat: This type of meat comes from organically raised animals who enjoyed a natural grass-fed diet without drugs and hormones. Producers do not add artificial chemicals to the meat during packaging.

You must know the differences between these meats when talking about health effects, because it’s hard to make blanket statements when there’s so much variety. Many scientific studies also focus on meat from factory-farmed animals kept on grain-based diets, which may influence the results. Keep this in the back of your mind as we dive into the pros and cons of eating red meat.

Pros of Red Meat

The advantages of eating red meat apply to both our physical and emotional well-being. In this section, we’ll explore the positive effects of consuming red meat on the body and mind.

Nutritional Benefits of Red Meat

Carnivores, rejoice — red meat is one of the most nutritious foods. Because it comes from animals, red meat is an excellent source of all the vital vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients necessary to keep an organism alive and healthy. For example, the iron found in red meat is high-quality heme iron, which the human body absorbs much more readily than iron from plants.

Red meat also contains vitamin B12, which you can’t get from eating plant-based foods. Vitamin B12 boosts your body’s DNA-making process and keeps your red blood cells and nerves healthy. The protein that red meat provides helps us build strong bones and muscles.

Here’s the nutritional breakdown according to the recommended daily allowance for a 3.5-ounce serving of raw ground beef with 10% fat content.

  • Vitamin B3: 25%
  • Vitamin B6: 18%
  • Vitamin B12: 37%
  • Iron: 12%
  • Selenium: 24%
  • Zinc: 32%
  • Many other vitamins and minerals are also present in less significant amounts.

So, is ground beef healthy? Yes, when it has the right meat-to-fat ratio. To take advantage of all the nutrients ground beef has to offer and get the most from your meat, purchase ground beef that’s only 10% fat. Otherwise, the meat will be higher in cholesterol and have more of an adverse impact on your health.

psychological benefits of red meat

Psychological Benefits of Red Meat

It’s essential to consider holistic health when talking about food, including mental well-being and psychological effects. Food can have an extreme impact on our mood by providing vital nutrients, or not, and causing energy spikes or crashes.

Studies found that eating red meat can decrease the risk of depression and anxiety, showing those with a low red meat intake to be nearly twice as likely to have an anxiety disorder. Red meat may also help battle depression and improve your mood because it raises dopamine levels, so what you’ve known all along is true — eating red meat makes you happy.

One benefit of eating red meat that too often gets overlooked is that it’s delicious! We’ve all experienced eating something we enjoy with people we love, and experiencing a resulting mood boost. There’s no need to refrain from a slice of Christmas ham. We think the positive emotional and mental effects of participating in a beloved family tradition outweigh the potential negatives.

Cons of Red Meat

For all the benefits of red meat, you can still have too much of a good thing. But is beef bad for you? The answer isn’t quite as simple as it may seem. 

Multiple studies have shown that a diet with too much red meat can come with adverse side effects. But keep in mind that the studies connecting red meat with various diseases were observational, meaning they may show an association between two things, but cannot prove causation. Many of these observational studies still link red meat with an increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and death.

Another crucial thing to remember when looking at the case against red meat is the different types. Many of these studies focused on processed meat, not high-quality red meat. There are different categories of red meat, and further research has shown dramatic differences, depending on what kind you consume.

A comparison of 20 studies that found a link between processed meat and the risk of developing diabetes and heart disease identified no association between those diseases and unprocessed red meat. Another sizable observational study connected processed meat with a higher risk of death, but saw no effects for unprocessed red meat.

The vast difference between processed and unprocessed red meat makes it critical to clarify which type of meat is the focus when talking about an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and death. Not all meat will affect your health in the same way, as shown by the extreme variation in the health effects of processed and unprocessed meat. Although there are no clear additional health benefits of organic or grass-fed beef, they do avoid the drawbacks of highly processed meat or red meat from grain-fed, growth-hormone-filled beef.

So does red meat increase your risk of cancer? The short answer is yes, but only in high doses and when cooked using high heat, such as frying or broiling. Although there is a risk that cooking red meat using high-temperature methods can lead to cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) forming on the meat, there are steps you can take to decrease this risk.

To reduce the chance of HCAs forming on red meat, follow these guidelines when grilling.

  • Trim the fat: Remove excess fat from the meat before you grill it, and toss out any charred pieces before you eat it. Choosing lean cuts will make this step more straightforward because they contain less fat to begin with, which reduces the chance of dripping juices and carcinogen-causing flare-ups.
  • Use a marinade: HCAs may increase cancer risk, but meat marinades may reduce their formation. Make sure you use a marinade without sugar.
  • Cook over low heat: High heat can cause flare-ups or char when grilling, which can lead to HCAs. Instead, grill red meat over medium or indirect heat, such as cooking ham on a pellet grill, which allows you to keep a tight rein on the temperature.
  • Turn the meat: Frequently turning the meat with tongs can decrease the chance of releasing juices or drippings that cause flare-ups. That means no more pressing on burgers with a spatula to release juices.
  • Don’t overcook: Cancer-causing compounds are more common in well-done meat. Be sure to cook your meat enough to kill any harmful bacteria, but don’t overdo it.

Because humans are not lab rats and we can’t have perfectly randomized control trials, we’ll probably never have a definitive answer about the exact effects of red meat. Until new research says otherwise, it’s best to be mindful of red meat’s potential hazards and aware of the observational studies’ results without staking your life — or steak — on them.

how to eat red meat and be healthy

How to Eat Red Meat and Be Healthy

When unprocessed and consumed in reasonable amounts, red meat can find its place in a healthy diet. As long as you’re eating lean, unprocessed red meat and not having a whole T-bone as a routine midnight snack, there’s no genuine cause for worry.

The central aspect to remember when thinking about the risks of eating red meat is frequency. The adverse health effects of red meat only become a concern if your red meat consumption is unusually high. A lower rate of red meat consumption — no more than two to three servings per week — comes with all the advantages of eating red meat and lower risks of the harmful effects.

You don’t need to avoid red meat altogether — just enjoy it in moderation. Of course, you shouldn’t fill the space reserved for fruits and vegetables on your plate with red meat, but incorporating it into a balanced diet is perfectly OK — healthy, even! Those who reach the average U.S. life expectancy of 79 will eat around 86,505 meals in your lifetime, so occasionally including a piece of red meat in those meals probably isn’t likely to have a significant effect.

There are many advantages to eating red meat, and it may seem like humans evolved to do so. However, humans can survive without it, and it’s possible to lead a perfectly healthy lifestyle while eating no red meat whatsoever. That may not be a lifestyle many of us would want to live, but it’s an option. For those of us who are a bit more carnivorous, work red meat into your diet occasionally.

Ultimately, if you follow a balanced diet, exercise regularly and cook your food carefully, you should have no trouble including some red meat in your healthy lifestyle. To be extra health-conscious, go for lean cuts of meat, such as flank steak, and stick with organic, grass-fed beef. 

Enjoy Your Red Meat More With a Grilla Grill

To get the most out of your red meat, cook it over a grill from Grilla Grills. Our grills give you total temperature control, so you know you’re cooking your red meat safely. From 180 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, you determine how well-done your meat gets.

If you’re trying to scale back on your red meat intake, make the red meat you indulge in as tasty as possible by using a Grilla grill to give it a deep-down professional smoke flavor. We prefer quality and durability over fancy bells and whistles, so we engineer our grills to last and include a four-year warranty.

enjoy red meat with a grilla grill

Find the Grilla grill right for you to see how easy cooking over wood fire can be, and become a star in your backyard.

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