Red meat can be an important part of a healthy diet. In recent years, dieting lifestyles like Keto have brought about renewed interest in a protein-based diet. Red meat is a great source of important proteins, vitamins, and minerals. The fats and proteins are vital to cell health, growth, and development in young people, and has numerous health benefits for people of all ages. Today we'll dispel some of the myths about red meat and we'll show you some ways to use red meat as part of a balanced diet.
Is Red Meat Good for You?
It's unfortunate that you can't just simply eat rib eye steak all day, every day. That would be awesome. But, we all know that too much of anything can become a problem. Eating too much red meat too often can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, colon cancer, and diabetes. Unfortunately, the knee-jerk reaction to this information, of course, has been that Americans have reduced the amount of red meat consumption in their households. Instead, they're reaching for proteins like pork and chicken since white meat supposedly carries lower health risks.
In fact, USDA numbers show that in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Americans consumed around 80 lbs of beef each, per year. Beef has been in a downhill slide since then as more and more health advocates recommended avoiding saturated fat that gives beef it's awesome flavor, but is also responsible for increasing bad cholesterol. However, in recent years, consumption of red meat has begun to rebound. With a five-pound-per-person increase from 2018 to 2019 being the largest in recorded history! On average, Americans consumed 60 lbs of red meat per person in 2019.
Part of the reason that red meat consumption has started to rebound has to do with changing science. Red meat isn't seen as the devil it used to be. Today, more scientists are looking at how red meat is a vital part of a complete, balanced diet that provides the proper nutrition your body needs to be healthy. Portion control and selecting healthier cuts of red meat is replacing the antiquated idea that red meat is unhealthy.
Pork: It’s Not the Other White Meat
An advertising blitz campaign in the 1980s sought to convince Americans that pork was a healthy alternative to beef. The catchy slogan “Pork: The Other White Meat” worked to increase American consumption of pork and became a widespread parody joke at the same time. But, here is the truth: pork isn’t white meat. Like beef, pork contains high levels of myoglobin, responsible for holding iron and oxygen in the blood. All mammals have some level of myoglobin, but in varying amounts. Myoglobin in pork is on par with beef and is substantially higher than poultry or fish, making pork a red meat by definition.
What is Myoglobin and Why Does it Matter?
Myoglobin is responsible for some of our favorite aspects of grilling, smoking, and searing. It contains iron heme, which is responsible for the red color in fresh meat. When we cook red meat, it turns brown. Again, iron heme is responsible for the color change. Guess what? That beautiful pink color of corned beef and pastrami- you guessed it, it’s caused by a reaction between iron heme and nitrites.
Something a little scary – some meat packing and processing plants package meat in artificial carbon monoxide environments to enhance the pink or red color through the interaction with iron heme. Consumers tend to choose red or pink meat over gray or brown with the expectation that it is fresher. Carbon monoxide exposure will allow meat to retain a red color for up to one year.
Myoglobin is also released when a muscle is injured, which is one of the markers used to identify when a person has a heart attack. Research has demonstrated that a diet high in meat containing myoglobin increases the risk of certain cancers, as the compounds of the protein are toxic to the kidneys and digestive tract.
Health Benefits of Eating Red Meat
After decades of news articles and lots of interviews with people who have a bunch of letters after their name, it makes sense that most people think red meat is unhealthy. Here is the problem: every study that tries to demonstrate that diets high in red meat cause cancer and other health problems are inconclusive. To this day, no scientific study has directly linked a diet high in red meat to lead to cancer. There are simply too many other factors to consider to draw this conclusion.
So, why do we think red meat is bad? Unfortunately, there is always a lot of context lost when journalists try to discuss science with the readers out there. Generalizations get made about scientific information and it can get even more misconstrued as it gets passed around. In other words, fake news has been around for a long time, even if no one noticed.
So let's get into some of the actual benefits of red meat.
Red meat is an essential source of protein that is vital to health and survival. It provides a significant source of protein and is more digestible than protein from nuts and beans. Diets lacking protein contribute to hair loss, weakness, fatigue, and malnourishment.
Red Meat is High in Essential Vitamins, Nutrients, and Minerals
We already discussed iron heme a little, but here is something you might not know. Iron heme is essential for pregnant women and their developing child. Iron heme improves oxygenation of the blood and it’s an easily digestible source of iron. But, red meat also provides plenty other health benefits you should know about.
Red meat is high in B vitamins, particularly B12. People who have a diet deficient in B12 are at a greater risk of developing mental disorders, cancer, cardiovascular problems, and other illnesses. B12 may also play a role in slowing the progression of aging.
Red meat is not only high in Vitamin D, but it also provides the vitamin in an easily absorbable form. Research has shown that whole milk, also high in Vitamin D, provides less soluble forms. Red meat is one of the best ways to get a sufficient amount of Vitamin D, particularly for people who don’t eat oily fish very often. Vitamin D may play a role in reducing degenerative bone diseases, joint problems, and other physical ailments.
Diets that avoid red meat can often lead to zinc deficiencies, as the best sources are red meat and shellfish. Zinc is associated with physiological functions. A lack of zinc in your diet can cause a wide range of issues from muscle cramps to organ failure. Like iron and vitamins, the form of zinc found in red meat is easy to digest and absorb.
But What About Saturated Fat?
Beef, particularly the really tasty cuts, is high in saturated fat. Now, we all know at this point that saturated fat is bad – it increases LDL, which is bad cholesterol, right? Well science doesn’t actually back up those flashy headlines on the evening news. In fact, some of the largest and most complete studies yet conducted indicate an inverse reaction – diets low in saturated fat have an increased risk of stroke. The most complete studies on saturated fat in a person's diet have failed to draw any conclusion regarding the overall health impacts, again due in large part to the huge number of other factors that cause health problems. Sure, scientists today still recommend limiting your daily intake of saturated fat, but not eliminating it entirely.
It turns out that saturated fats are actually essential to our body. They reduce inflammation, improve cell function and nutrient uptake, and provide needed energy for everything from movement to healing. People who don’t get enough saturated fat in their diet risk numerous diseases from nutrient deficiencies and poor cellular function.
How Often Should You Eat Red Meat?
You will see different organizations out there making many different recommendations about how much red meat is too much to eat in one week. One thing we do know is that portion control and exercise play key roles in how our bodies process the food we eat. A professional body builder is going to require more protein, vitamins, nutrients, and minerals than someone who spends most of their time sitting in an office. But in general, most experts will say you should aim to eat red meat around three times per week.
Make Healthier Choices When Buying Meat
One of the best ways you can continue to enjoy red meat is to make different choices. One of the categories of food that gets lumped into red meat is processed meat. This is things like sausage, hot dogs, and beef sticks. These products often contain other ingredients and chemicals that make them unhealthy.
Choosing lean cuts of beef can also make a big difference in the health benefits of eating red meat. Most cuts with the term “loin” in them are going to be lean cuts. While we all love a two-inch thick ribeye, that should be something special, not a regular menu item. But you can go with a thick filet mignon instead. This cut is lean and has a unique, mild flavor and delicate texture. Plus, it’s a smaller cut, making portioning easier.
Red Meat: It Does a Body Good!
One of the things we’ve learned over the years is that moderation is the key to everything in life. You’ll be healthier and happier by purchasing high-quality cuts of beef and keeping the really fatty cuts for special occasions. Beef jerky, for example, is high in protein, extremely low fat, and very portable. You can make your own jerky at home and control the salt and chemicals during preparation to make a healthy snack food. Eating the right amount of red meat each week will make both you and your body feel better.