Red Meat: Good or Bad?

by in Food News, Healthy Tips, March 24, 2009


The media loves telling us how bad red meat is (have you heard about the new study claiming red meat may cause an early death?). Meanwhile, dietitians say it can be part of a healthy diet. So what’s the real deal?

All That Cancer Talk
You can’t miss the negative buzz swirling around red meat. This week, the Washington Post had an interesting piece on how eating beef or pork increases your chances of dying early. This Los Angeles Times article from last year claimed “the news for red meat is getting worse and worse” when a December 2007 study linked red meat to an increased risk of various types of cancer.

In 2006, another study of more than 90,000 women tied breast cancer to eating the red stuff. In 2005, the American Cancer Society said eating red meat increased your chances for colon cancer — but they also said that there is a greater risk of getting cancer from being obese (and being a coach potato) than eating red meat.

Some scary stuff to say the least.

Other Noted Risks
Processed meats such as sausage, deli meat and hot dogs contain nitrites, which help preserve and prevent stuff like E. Coli from growing (did you think hot dogs were naturally that red?). These chemicals have also been linked to cancer risks. Good news is there are nitrite-free meats available.

Let’s not forget the possible problems from cooking at high temperatures, especially grilling over charcoal — that’s also linked to increased cancer chances. And you’re probably wondering if those “grass-fed” labels make a difference. Conventionally raised cattle tend to have a higher ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats, which research indicates can increase the risk for heart disease. Many folks are opting for grass-fed meats that have a more balanced ratio of the fats.

So What’s a Carnivore To Do?
By now, you’ll probably want to ban red meat from your shopping cart or tear your hair out! Not so fast. Do you see every meat eater in town running around with various types of cancers? I don’t. Yes, there is loads of evidence against eating red meat, but pinpointing the exact cause of the cancers is difficult and unknown at this time — and there are many factors to consider (especially what’s added to the meat or how the animal was raised).

If you want to eat meat, your best bet is to go lean and eat it in moderation. And beef isn’t the only red meat — don’t forget about lamb, veal and bison. Lean cuts of beef include tenderloin, top and eye rounds, sirloin and flank. Look for lamb shanks, sirloin or rack of lamb. If you rely on ground beef a lot, look for packages labeled 90% lean or higher. And be mindful of portions: no more than 4 ounces, which is about the size of a deck of cards.

It’s just as important to prepare — and pair — your meat with low-fat, wholesome ingredients.

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Comments (37)

  1. Julie Rogers says:

    Thanks for a bit of common sense amid a sea of fear-mongering. Our local news’ TV teaser was “Red meat will lead to an early death.” Seriously? How is that responsible journalism? I guess “Eating too much of anything that isn’t completely healthy can be bad for you” just lacked the ability to draw in viewers.

  2. mherzog says:

    Vegetarian diets are indeed healthy but I think the import reason to give up meat is for compassion for animals. Please see this video:

  3. Roland says:

    I’m not sure I will survive without meat :-( I saw some bison steak in the grocery this weekend and got some. My wife and kids don’t want to try it but I’ll find out how it tastes like soon. Too bad it’s the bad stuff that makes meat taste good. :-P

  4. Jill Maguire says:

    In response to those who have commented – thank you.
    I am a sustainable Buffalo rancher, that raises free-roaming, pastured only, grass-fed only, antibiotic & hormone free and field harvestd bison meat. Please know that there are ranchers that care about the environment, the animals, and quality healthy food. Making available to you healthy red meat for your occasional consumption.
    Also – Roland it tastes great without the bad stuff!

  5. L Rausch says:

    That meat site is so filled with bias, which I suppose any normally intelligent person would understand. merzog, you do the world a great disservice in supporting something like that.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    My mom has always warned me about eating too much red meat, but i LOVE steak. What I try to do is not to eat it so often and to pair it with nutritious veggies like asparagus or green beans. As a carnivore, the bad news of eating red meat leading to an early death concerned me but what about those folks back in the day who lived to be 100 or even more? The concern should definitely be about the added hormones and other not so healthy options that are out there, so when in the mood for a juicy porterhouse, look for a grass-fed, all natural product.

  7. I am an avid carnivore 69yrs old. I eat all other meats, including fish and crustaceans. I have been a patient of chrons desease since 1972. I have no ide3a how long I will last, but if you thought this article did any good for carnivores, think again. “IT DON’T”

  8. Ryan West says:

    Man I was just about to go throw out that NY Strip loin I just cut up and froze, then I changed my mind.. I like my steaks grilled over charcoal too. The way I look at it is EVERYTHING causes cancer and it does seem like every other person gets it at some time in life. I enjoy the days I have and good eats is a very big part of my enjoyment!!

    Don’t forget venison either!!

  9. Carol Bauman says:

    My parents ate beef 6 days a week (chicken on Sundays) all their lives and both lived to be 92 years old. They were healthy and active. So much for the beef
    myth. I’m not going to give up beef or pork.

  10. Patricia A. says:

    Didn’t anyone read the end of the NY Times article? It sounds the climate change, green, vegan people must have performed this study:

    “In addition to the health benefits, a major reduction in the eating of red meat would probably have a host of other benefits to society, Popkin said: reducing water shortages and pollution, cutting energy consumption, and tamping down greenhouse gas emissions — all of which are associated with large-scale livestock production.

    “There’s a big interplay between the global increase in animal food intake and the effects on climate change,” he said. “If we cut by a few ounces a day our red-meat intake, we would have big impact on emissions and environmental degradation”.

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