Red Meat - Is it Actually Bad for You?
Updated: Feb 6
For years now public officials have warned us that we should limit our intake of red meat and by consuming it, it can cause a number of health concerns. It is one of the most controversial foods in nutrition today. We have been eating red meat for centuries, however, the meat we eat now isn’t the same meat people ate in the past.
This article discusses the health concerns and the health benefits of red meat - and whether or not red meat is actually good or bad for your health.
What is Red Meat?
Generally, anything that has four legs is considered to be red meat, it is also commonly red when raw - beef, pork, and lamb.
The way we handle red meat can vary depending on the companies that process it and the companies that sell it. When discussing the health concerns with red meat, it is important to consider what type we are talking about.
Processed meat: Products that are conventionally raised and then go through various processing methods. Raised in a factory often fed chemicals and hormones.
Conventional meat: Products that are fairly unprocessed, however, are usually still factory farmed and sometimes fed chemicals and hormones
Grass-fed - organic meat: Products that have been naturally fed and raised organically without chemicals or hormones.
General Nutrition in Red Meat
Red meat offers a solid nutritional benefit to our diet. It contains several vitamins, antioxidants, and plenty of protein.
Vitamin B6 - Supports the immune system
Vitamin B12 - Supports nervous system
Iron - Supports red blood cells
Zinc - Promotes immune system
Protein - Promotes muscle tissue
Grass-fed beef can also contain omega-3s, the fatty acid CLA and higher amounts of vitamins A and E, which are great for a healthy heart. It's important to remember to always check where the food is coming from because this will play a huge role in whether it's good or bad for your body. Try to shop for organic, local farm-raised meat.
Studies Conducted on Red Meat
Researchers have told us over the past few years that consuming red meat can cause a number of health issues - heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc. However, most of these studies have been observations studies, which offer only association and no actual evidence.
Heart disease and diabetes
A review of 20 different studies was conducted in reference to an increased rate of heart disease and diabetes from consuming processed meat.
However remember that this study is by observation only and provides no actual evidence, nor have there been any studies conducted showing that red meat increases heart disease or diabetes.
No observation studies were found associated with unprocessed meat (grass-fed organic). Observation studies offer very little in type of research and the only way to provide cause and effect is through controlled trial studies.
There are several observational studies that have shown the association with the risk of cancer and the consumption of red meat. Colorectal is believed to be the main cancer-associated - the fourth most commonly diagnosed cancer.
However, a meta-analysis has shown that there isn’t a significant amount of evidence to link the two - The available epidemiologic data are not sufficient to support an independent and unequivocal positive association between red meat intake and CRC.
These studies and researches often don’t discern whether it is processed or unprocessed meat. Neither do they consider how the meat is cooked, which could have an impact on how healthy or unhealthy it is for you.
A new analysis from a number of international researchers say that advice and guidelines concerning consumption of red meat is not backed by good scientific evidence. Unprocessed red meat and processed meat are unlikely to be causal factors for adverse health outcomes and that eating less beef or pork has almost no advantages.
Bradley Johnston, an epidemiologist and leader in Annals of Internal Medicine stated “The certainty of the evidence for these risk reductions was low, to very low”. This raises questions about dietary advice, nutritional research and the standards these studies need to be held too.
All of the studies that have shown to associate meat with harmful health concerns are observational studies, which can only show us correlations, not cause. These types of studies don’t take into consideration each individuals whole diet or general health - smoking, exercise, drinking, etc.
There is no strong evidence to support the link between red meat and serious health issues - As long as you consume unprocessed (organic) red meat, and use healthy cooking methods, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.