Health

Why Is Red Meat Bad for Your Health?

Eating red meat seems to be a staple in Western diets, but is eating red meat bad for our health? We took a look at the impacts of red meat, grass-fed vs. factory farming, and the nutritional benefits red meat can add to your diet. First off, let’s see what science has to say about red meat in your daily life.

Processed Meat Can Risk Cardiovascular Health 

Remember back when a breakfast of two eggs, sausage, and bacon was considered a healthy way to start your day? Well, times are changing! A new study has found that daily consumption of red meat or processed meat products could have a serious toll on your heart health.  

According to the National Institute of Health, two servings of red and processed meat per week can increase cardiovascular risk by up to 7%. The study looked at the consumption of all types of meat, including chicken, beef, and processed meats such as pepperoni, bologna, and deli meats.

Increased Mortality Rate and Red Meat Consumption

A study published in the British Journal of Medicine found that “an increase in total red meat consumption of at least half a serving per day was associated with a 10% higher mortality risk. For processed and unprocessed red meat consumption, an increase of at least half a serving per day was associated with a 13% higher mortality risk.” 

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However, when considering the findings of studies such as this one, it’s important to remember the distinction between causation and correlation. While these studies are reputable, they are only focused on the study of red meat’s impact on a person’s diet. These studies do not go deeper into the participants’ whole diet or lifestyle. This means that while those who eat more red meat are found to die at an increased rate, there may also be other factors that weren’t considered, such as smoking and other lifestyle choices. One take away that can be gotten from this BMJ study is this: your best bet when consuming red meat is to practice diligent moderation. 

Processed Red Meat Impact of Health

Red Meat May Be Considered A Carcinogen 

An announcement from the World Health Organization in 2018 caused a bit of a commotion about eating red meat. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a division of WHO, said the following “overall, the Working Group classified consumption of processed meat as ‘carcinogenic to humans’ on the basis of sufficient evidence for colorectal cancer.” The study went on to note that a daily serving of red meat 50 grams or above can increase your risk of cancer as much as 18%. 

Are Some Types Red Meat Better Than Others? 

When it comes to meat getting a bad rap from recent research and science, the culprit is usually processed meat. The definition of processed meat is this: a meat product that has been treated through the process of curing, smoking, or fermenting. So, foods like bacon, pepperoni, sausage, corned beef, etc. are all examples of processed meat. However, there are certain kinds of red meat that may be considered a healthier option and even have health benefits. 

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First, let’s break down the types of red meat. There’s conventionally raised red meat, which is sourced from animals raised in an industrial style of farming or “factory farming.” Then there is grass-fed and organic red meat, which comes from an animal that was most likely pasture-raised without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones. Finally, processed meat can come from either conventional meat or organic meat and can still have a negative impact regardless of it being organic or not. 

Pasture raised grass feed cows

Now that we’ve cleared that up, you might be asking which is the healthiest red meat option? Multiple sources agree that if you are going to eat red meat, choosing an organic, grass-feed option is your best bet. This is because the animal was raised without antibiotics and growth hormones, both of which have shown to bioaccumulate in humans. Also, grass-fed red meat has proven to be more nutrient-dense by having a higher content of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin A. 

Health Benefits of Eating Red Meat

Red meat has had the finger pointed at it for heart disease, high cholesterol, etc. for some time now, but that doesn’t mean that red meat is void of nutrition. Red meat is actually high in many key vitamins and minerals that are hard to find in other foods. 

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Here is a breakdown of some key vitamins and minerals found in 100 gram serving of raw ground beef (90% lean, 10% fat): 

  • Niacin (Vitamin B3): 25% of the recommended daily amount 
  • Cobalamin (Vitamin B12): 37% of the recommended daily amount 
    • Vitamin B12 cannot be found in plant-based foods, and one of its only sources is red meat. 
  • Selenium: 24% of the recommended daily amount 
  • Zinc: 32% of the recommended daily amount 
  • Iron: 12% of the recommended daily amount 
    • The iron in red meat is known as “heme iron” and is absorbed at a higher rate in our bodies than plant-based iron. 

The Bottom Line on Red Meat and Your Health 

Although red meat has been demonized in the health and nutrition community in the past couple of years, that doesn’t mean that red meat has no place in anyone’s diet. If you are finding that you have some gaps in your nutrition, such as Iron or B vitamins, eating red meat is a great option to address that. However, not all red meat is created equal. The leadings science is pointing to the recommendation of eating high-quality meat in moderation, a safe estimation would be 1-2 servings per week, and avoiding processed meats. These recommendations become especially true if you are dealing with an existing condition such as heart disease, high cholesterol, or hypertension, and any significant diet changes should be consulted about with your doctor. 

What has been your experience with red meat? Do you not eat meat and have noticed significant changes? Or are you a full-fledged carnivore?

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Lesley George

Lesley is a content writer and community manager at Shape.
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