Red Meat – Eat or Avoid?

Eating red meat has typically been associated with an increased health risk, including a greater chance of getting cancer, clogged up arteries, and even damaged brain cells.

We’re regularly told that red meat is full of saturated fat and high cholesterol, and that eating it can lead to a number of problems that could reduce our life expectancy.

But is this really the case? What is the truth about red meat?

More red meat improves health

A number of investigations have shown that diets which are low in carbohydrates – and thus often high in red meat protein – consistently lead to improved health benefits.

One recent study shows that those on a vegetarian diet actually had a lower BMI and higher incidents associated with poor health, including cancer, mental health issues and allergies, than those eating red meat.

Of course, this isn’t to say that being vegetarian is bad for you, it’s only one such study, but it does show that red meat isn’t necessarily “the bad guy”.

Red meat is becoming increasingly popular once again. It’s not just body builders who are ordering steaks by the dozen to benefit from the large protein quantities found in red meat. More and more athletes – including runners, swimmers and track competitors – are turning to beef joints and lean mince to enjoy greater endurance, increased muscle mass and a faster recovery time.

The benefits of red meat 

It’s full of protein – It contains amino acids essential in building muscle and repairing tissue. Those on a high protein diet typically take in more “good” calories and feel fuller for longer, resulting in more weight loss when compared with those on a carb-rich diet.

It’s a source of iron – This boosts the health of red blood cells, combating tiredness and ensuring the body can replenish and refuel itself. The iron binds to the haemoglobin in the blood and delivers oxygen to tissue around the body efficiently. With more oxygen brought to the lungs and the muscles, your body can workout longer.

It’s a great way to get Vitamin B12 – B12 boosts the number of red blood cells. Your body can struggle to get B12 from supplements because it can’t store a water-soluble version, and anything from supplemental tablets is usually destroyed by stomach acid. The best way to take in the vitamin is from food sources like red meat. 

It’s high in zinc – Zinc supports a healthy skin, and can boost the immune system, which is especially important in fighting off colds in the winter months.

Concerns to be aware of 

It’s still important to be aware of the concerns with red meat, though some are unjustified.

Be sure to take into account the type of meat you’re eating. Processed meat is vastly different to an organically-raised piece of rump steak.

Some red meat is very fatty, high in both cholesterol and saturated fats. But lean meat, is actually very nutritious, full of essential vitamins and minerals, and without the high fat content.

There are claims that red meat is not natural, but these typically stem from the fact that some animals are fed growth hormones and other such chemicals. This is only a concern in the USA however, as the practice has been outlawed in EU.

Eat more than 2 portions of red meat a week, and one study showed a 30% increase in the chance of developing bowel cancer. Similarly, a build up of iron in the brain could contribute to Alzheimer’s disease, whilst the digestion process could take essential minerals away from bones and contribute to osteoporosis.

However, most of the studies that describe an increased health risk from eating red meat are often just observational, and are commenting on correlating factors rather than an actual isolated investigation.

In fact, the larger the study and the higher the quality, the more the risk of any health problems decreases.

The key is the type of red meat you choose – e.g. unprocessed without additives – and that you eat it in moderation.

How to cook red meat

You could of course decide not to trim the fat, and then fry your meat in lots of oil, but naturally it will have a high fat content.

Instead use a slow cooker to stew your red meat, making a delicious braised beef or tasty chili. Grilling, at a relatively low heat can also gently cook meat like homemade burgers and sausages whilst removing excess fat.

Got any red meat recipes you swear by? Share them in the comments below.

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