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. Neil says:

    Well, heck, red meat will kill you, chicken carries salmonella and fish may contain unhealthy levels of mercury. But whatever happened to “all things in moderation?” Most folks don’t eat red meat 7 days a week. I think it has a place in a varied, nutritionally sound diet. I do opt for the all natural Angus that my local market carries, I am eating more fish and chicken these days and we have meatless nights each week. Still, I don’t think I’ll be giving up rib eyes and burgers.

  2. William says:

    I’d rather have 50 years with great steaks than 100 without. Living forever is not my goal.

  3. Carrie says:

    Everything in moderation is right. I treat myself to red meat once every month or so. I do eat chicken and sustainable seafood. To the person who said that Vegan is not only better for you but is about compassion towards animals, by the fact that humans have not only molars but canine teeth means we are designed to eat meat. I think we over consume almost everything including meat which again comes back to moderation. I dont wear fur though lol. When looking for meat of any kind dont just focus on cut but look for words like organic, sustainable, and green. Chances are youre headed in the right direction. To the person made it clear they think the green movement is pointless the article is just saying that there are many benefits to cutting back its not saying to completely cut meat out. We have brains so that we can see that our actions have consequences. Climate change has always existed but we are definitely helping to speed it up. And maybe its not just the red meat’s fault. Over population also causes higher disease rates. And think of the lbs of raw meat that go unsold in stores. God bless the green bison farmer. And I agree you don’t need the bad stuff to make it great!

  4. Heikki says:

    I think everything is bad if you eat just the same every day. Eating everything is good, and also red meat is good. But with vegetables, bread…

  5. John S says:

    Is it the red meat or the nitrates and nitrites in the red meat that cause the cancer? All modern processed meats have preservatives in it and most people eat these types of foods.
    There are groups of isolated cultures, Masai Tribe in Africa and Eskimos, eat meat on a regular basis and have excellent health. (Although, they may die early from other things, not meat related).
    Eat free range organic and if you can’t eat in moderation.

  6. Arnold Ayers says:

    This latest so called study telling us that if we eat more than 5 ounces of red meat per week will dramatically increase our risk of early death, is just unbeliveable! Humans have been red meat eaters forever, yes our ancesters didn’t live as long, but they also didn’t have our technology! I know many people that have lived beyond 80 years that eat red meat frequently, to say anything over 5 ounces will kill us is just not acceptable or a reliable study!

  7. syn says:

    The great chef Julia Child thought that the progressing spastic fear of food destroys the entire point of enjoying life.

    If you believe you can time your death or further, believe the insane idea you can prevent death then your life will have been wasted anyway.

    Lastly; respect nature, if humans do not eat the meat then wolves will.

    bon appetit

  8. Kadence says:

    Again with all the alarmist studies. I had to see this article just so I could laugh. While it is true we shouldn’t eat a ton of red meat drenched in butter and fat everyday, or live off of bread, we also were not made to live completely off of vegetables. People are so afraid of cancer that in their search for answers they will point at anything. Just live your life already, people! The fact is, anything can take you at anytime- grasping at straws does nothing but cause worry and decrease your joy of life.

  9. Sheila says:

    Something is gonna kill me when its my time. I don’t smoke,dont drink, exercise daily, drink plenty of water….lord knows I am eating meat!!

  10. David says:

    syn – I loved your comments, and I agree whole-heartedly! It really shouldn’t surprise anyone that red meat causes cancer. Everything does, right? (Even stress!) The fact is, nobody knows for sure what the links are to every kind of cancer. I’m glad there are medical experts out there trying to find cures. We need people exploring all the common threads, but it’s an exploration that should not be expected to end soon…especially not with such a generalized theory of “all red meat” yadda, yadda, yadda. So, live while you can, and enjoy what you like. As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, by all means… :7)

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