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. Crystal says:

    As a Nebraska Beef and Pork producer two things frustrate me. 1) Why do many consumers automatically assume that natural, organic or hormone-free products are better for you? Why is the agricultural industry the only industry that is viewed negatively if we utilize the latest science and technology? At my family farm, we are cattle feeders and when we have a load of cattle shipped to us, we make sure they have their proper vaccinations and give them a growth implant. This implant is safe for the animal and basically allows them to convert feed to pounds more efficiently. What does this mean? They get to their market weight faster consuming less feed, producing less manure and drinking less water. We also use the manure and apply it to our crops in place of chemical fertilizers. Environmentally friendly…I think so! Have you ever thought about why hormones are bad for you? In a single serving of beef, there are 1.83 nana grams of hormones. In vegetables, thousands more. Also, in a single birth control pill there are 36,000 nana grams of hormones. There has been no evidence from the USDA or FDA that proves natural or organic foods are better for you, they are just raised differently.

    2) As producers, we are caretakers for animals and it is our moral and ethical responsibility to provide the best care possible. Our industry has a few bad apples but please don’t judge the rest of the industry on those bad apples. If you have a question about your health you will probably go to a doctor, a finance question you might talk to a banker, if you have a question about how your food is raised please talk to a farmer or rancher and not the Human Society of the United States or PETA. They have one agenda…and that is to promote a vegan society.

  2. wally says:

    Highland Beef is consistently much lower in fat content and cholesterol than other breeds. It is so lean that it compares with chicken and fish fat content. Their heavy coat insulates against a harsh climate and reduces the need to develop excess back fat

  3. suzieq says:

    I eat very limited amount of meat since I get very sick if I eat any more than a few bites. The doctors I’ve seen can’t figure out why. Anyway, eating too much of any thing is bad. I’ve tried organic meats and find that they make me less ill but they are more expensive so I can’t afford it very often.
    I feel strongly that the amount of chemicals and hormones in the commercial food supply are making us all very unhealthy. Whenever possible, grow your own, or find local suppliers that use organic practices.

  4. Brett Woods says:

    If there is concrete evidence that red meat is bad for u why are there no warnings on the packet? I just feel im being made 2 smoke outside in the cold, My beer is going up nearly a £1 now i cant eat a steak and chips!!! They'll be telling us sex causes cancer next!! although i think my missus must believe that already, it may explain a few things :-) All im saying is if u listened to all the scare mongers what would u actually be still aloud to do?

    • Gerald says:

      Actually Brett, sex does cause cancer (just joking). I felt the same way you do until I started to wonder why we were so sick and my research lead me to look at the food industry, which has a very powerful lobby in government. The majority of the meat we eat has been giving antibiotics and other chemicals, they eat the contaminated grain in feed lots that have beed stored in damp silos which breed myco toxins, and we eat the beef that eat the grain, that have been injected with the worst chemicals on earth, and wonder were sick. My motto forget the scaremongers do your own research, after all your health is your own responsibility. One more thing please: Here in America we eat more meat that almost any other nation, we are the fat, we are sick (rated 47th in health), we are only 4% of the worlds population, but we use 70% of the worlds prescription drugs. Is there a connection to the heavey meat eating and the fattest, and very sick people? I think so.

  5. Janet says:

    As a cow-calf producer, our farm is the first link in the beef chain. Our livestock is well cared for, healthy and evidently happy. In my husband’s absence, my son and I have had complete responsibility for the welfare of about 200 head. In three week’s time we have had three sets of twins (I am told this is a result of good health and nutrition in the mother). Two of these have spent a total of a week in our basement laundry room due to inclement weather and rejection by the mother. For those who criticize the treatment of “food animals” I ask how many would endure “living in a barn” for the sake of a baby farm animal? I doubt that most members of organizations like the HSUS and PETA would expend the energy required, much less the hours necessary to care for the entire herd, in addition to the helpless babies who shared our home. If done properly and well, it’s a 24/7 proposition.

    We truly care about the welfare of all of our cattle but also consume red meat, regardless of the warnings of health issues. I don’t think the consumption of them will be what kills us!

  6. Bella says:

    There is no such thing as organic. Although some people would like to think there is. Acid rain falls on all crops. Unless you are giving filtered water to your livestock, then they are drinking acid rain and we are all consuming it whether in vegetables or livestock. Its part of the “food chain”. The only thing different about organic is the price is higher and you are taught to believe you are eating healthier. I use to buy organic until I got smart. And by the way, “global warming” is a crock too! Just look up “global warming scam” on the internet. In a nutshell, it is man made with man made instruments that were interpreted wrong from day one. The media just need something to talk about to keep you interested. I know, this is about red meat. Sorry, I just had to throw that in! I have been a “health nut” since the age of 15. I care about what I eat and meat is a food group. It is full of iron and protein. I would never raise my kids as vegetarians. They can make that decision when they are old enough. Beef is innocent until froven guilty!

  7. Ann says:

    I appreciate the farmers who wrote to mention that they raise animals in a proper and careful manner. It is the factory farms that do not. Most of the meat consumed in America comes from a factory farm. I do not put all farmers in the same category as that would be foolish. Almost as foolish as being ignorant of the rules that regulate those factory farms. Lack of rules would be a better term. The USDA and FDA are corrupt facades run by the industry they were designed to regulate. Please, if you are going to eat red meat of any variety, seek out farmers like Janet and Jill who obviously raise the animals the way mother nature made them, eating grasses and without hormones, antibiotics and chemical pesticides. If you feed cattle what they were born to eat, grasses, not corn, they don’t need drugs to survive. And that is healthy for all of us.

  8. Maxine says:

    I love a good Tone Steak well done. I just had mince beef with tomatoes and vegetable pasta for dinner and went back for seconds.

  9. Janet says:

    Thank you, Bella, for your kind comments. Your assumption about “factory farms” is however, incorrect. The majority of beef producers (I don’t have the correct percentage at my fingertips) in the US are family farms and ranches. Most cow-calf producers own less than 100 cows and are farming as a second occupation.

    Calves are weaned at about 5-6 months of age, sold to a feeder who turns them into good pastures and occasionally supplements with grains. The calves are fed for several months and then resold to a feedlot as “stockers”. The feedlots house large numbers of cattle and feed them all they can eat of grains, silage and good quality hay. This is necessary because red meat eating Americans usually prefer the taste of grain fed beef, with the accompanying fat content. Grass fed beef has a “wilder” taste partly because cattle eat things other than grass when pastured.

    The cattle reach slaughter weight in the feedlots and are then sold to the meat processors/packers. They include the large conglomerates that ultimately determine the prices paid to all links in the beef chain and eventually, the price paid by the consumer. Some of these are responsible for the recent, unfortunate recalls of “tainted” meat.

    Many producers do use hormone implants. The science says that implants are a safe and effective way to improve gains on the same quantity of feed. We prefer to improve our genetics and the quality of our forage and produce a more natural product. Antibiotics are a necessary part of beef production. We all strive to produce healthy calves but occasionally they do get sick. Overuse of antibiotics are a shortcut most producers simply can’t afford.

    We, as producers have a self mandated group of procedures know as the “Beef Quality Assurance”. This certification program helps us to provide a consistently safe and good quality product.

    You may also be interested to know that much of the ground beef we eat is from dairy cattle that fail to produce the quantity of milk necessary to be profitable and their male offspring not suitable for breeding purposes. Because of lower milk prices recently, many herds have gone to slaughter.

    Rest assured that most beef cattle farmers/ranchers strive to provide a safe and healthy source of protein to all consumers.

  10. Don Turner says:

    It contains protein and Iron and many other good things for you. Like many other things, when we hear they are “good” or “bad” for you in some study, we are like cattle somethings and tend to believe everything said. What is more accurate is that even pure grains are not healthy for you in high concentration, hence the substantial rise in type 2 diabetes. So eat some beef, be careful not to fry it too much, use the grill and, season well. Do some chicken and pork and the ever popular “hot dog” or klebasa while you’re grilling. Excercise, watch your weight, drink plenty of water and be healthy until the time you aren’t here any more.

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