I am sure if you watch TV, listen to the radio, read magazines and newspapers, or talk to your healthcare provider, you've heard that red meat is the culprit for all of our health problems: from cancer to heart disease to diabetes.
Red meat is one of the most controversial foods in the history of nutrition. Our ancestors have been eating red meat since the beginning of time. But now for the past several decades, we have been convinced to believe that it can cause harm.
Red meat is one of the most nutritious foods you can eat. It is loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and various nutrients that are essential to our existence.
A 100 gram (3.5 ounces) portion of raw ground beef (10% fat) contains:
Vitamin B3 (Niacin), 25% of the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance)
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin), 37% of the RDA. This vitamin is not attainable from plant foods.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine), 18% of the RDA
Iron, 12% of the RDA. This is high quality heme-iron, which is absorbed much better than iron from plants.
Zinc, 32% of the RDA
Selenium, 24% of the RDA
Other vitamins and minerals in smaller amounts
Low calorie count of only 176, with 20 grams of quality animal protein and 10 grams of fat
Red meat is also rich in important nutrients like Creatine and Carnosine, crucial for muscle and brain function.
Grass-fed beef is even more nutritious than grain-fed, containing abundant amounts of heart-healthy Omega-3s, fatty acid CLA, along with more of Vitamins A and E. (1)
Of course one of the reasons for the red meat fallacy is that most of the red meat we eat today is completely different from the type consumed by our forefathers. There is a huge difference between an animal roaming in the wild, while eating chemical-free and pesticide-free grass, compared to a cow that is fed with GMO modified corn/grain, full of additives, including growth enhancing hormones and antibiotics, and also confined to a factory with artificial lighting.
Afterwards some of the meat gets preserved and processed, cured and smoked. On top of that, to make it more appealing, the Food Industry adds sugar, salt, fat, and artificial flavoring to compensate for the loss of the natural taste. Also to extend the shelf-life of the product, they add nitrates, sodium benzoate, sulfites, carbon monoxide and other potentially harmful preservatives. Foods that are packaged and canned have a long shelf-life, but they are high in calories, high in trans and saturated fats and high in chemicals and preservatives. (2)
Therefore it is very important to know the source of your meat:
Processed Meat: These products are usually from conventionally raised cows, that go through various processing methods. Examples include sausages, hot dogs, hamburgers, bacon, cold cuts, bologna, salami.
Conventional Red Meat: Conventional red meats are fairly unprocessed, but the cows are usually factory farmed. Meats that are red when raw are defined as “red” meats. This includes lamb, beef, pork, bison, elk and some others.
White Meat: Meats that are white when cooked are defined as “white” meats. This includes meat from poultry like chicken and turkey.
Grass-Fed, Organic Meat: This meat comes from animals that have been naturally grass-fed and raised organically, without drugs and hormones. They also don’t have any artificial chemicals added to them.
Let's look at the data!
In a population-based cohort of 74,645 Swedish men and women, studied for 15 years, researchers found that high total red meat consumption was associated with progressively shorter survival, largely due to the consumption of processed red meat. While consumption of non-processed red meat was not associated with shorter survival. (3)
In a study using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey-III, consumption of either red/non-processed meat or white meat was not consistently associated with all-cause or cause-specific mortality. (4)
Similarly, in more than 50,000 Japanese men and women, moderate meat consumption (up to 100 g/day) was not associated with increased mortality from ischemic heart disease, stroke, or total cardiovascular disease. (5)
In a prospective cohort of 44,616 disease-free French women, studied for 15 years, investigators also found an association between the consumption of processed red meat and hypertension. They observed no association between unprocessed red meat consumption and hypertension. (6)
The population-based Norwegian Women and Cancer cohort examined associations of meat intake with incidence of cancer at different subsites within the colon in 84,538 women. They found that high processed red meat intake (especially sausages) was associated with an increased risk for cancer of the proximal colon, distal colon, and rectum. (7)
Research on red and processed meat consumption, cooking methods, and risk for other cancers (and cancer precursors) has produced mixed results:
Prostate cancer: Positive association between prostate cancer and high intake of conventional red meat, cooked at high temperatures, pan-fried, or well-done.
Pancreatic cancer: No association with red or processed meat or fish. However, high poultry consumption might be associated with pancreatic cancer.
Bladder cancer: Processed meat intake is associated with bladder cancer.
Esophageal cancer: Meta-analyses finding that conventional red and processed meats may increase the risk for esophageal cancer.
Lung cancer: High intake of conventional red meat raises the risk for lung cancer by 35%.
The largest to date is the EPIC study, in which a large European cohort (almost a half million individuals) were followed for a median of 12.7 years. A high consumption of processed meat, but not red meat, was related to increased all-cause mortality (loss of life). The risk for cancer death was 43% higher and the risk for cardiac death was 70% higher, in people who ate more than 160 g/day of processed meats vs. those who ate 10.0-19.9 g/day. The study's most important finding, according to lead author Sabine Rohrmann, "is that mortality increases with increasing amounts of processed meat consumed." (8)
An interaction with smoking suggested that mortality was significantly higher in current and former smokers. The study had several other interesting findings. Rather than being associated with zero meat consumption, the lowest mortality rates were found among those who consumed about 10-20 g of red meat per day (equivalent to eating meat once or twice a week). This, although unexpected, is consistent with previous studies showing that vegetarians and non-vegetarians, who eat low amounts of meat have similar mortality rates.
The association between mortality and processed meat consumption was stronger in lean individuals than in obese or overweight individuals. The study also indicated that high intakes of conventional red meat and processed meat are associated with chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. (9)
The bottom line is:
As long as you are choosing unprocessed (preferably grass-fed) red meat and making sure to use gentler cooking methods to avoid burnt/charred pieces, then there is probably nothing to worry about.
Moderate consumption of unprocessed grass-fed red meat is good for your body and brain and is part of a healthy diet!
Dr. Koganski was named as the Smartest Family Physician in America in 2013, 2014 & 2016, as well as the # 1 Smartest Doc™ Internist in 2014 & 2015 by MDLinx.com, in collaboration with the Cleveland Clinic.
For more information on a healthy lifestyle and eating well, please schedule an appointment with Dr. Koganski at 215-750-7000, www.newtowninternalmedicine.com
2) Longo,N. Did you know this 10 chemical additives commonly found in meat? WakingTimes 08/08/ 2014
3) Bellavia A., et al. Differences in survival associated with processed and with nonprocessed red meat consumption. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 07/17/2014
4) Kappeler R, et al. Meat consumption and diet quality and mortality in NHANES III. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013;67:598-606
5) Nagao M, et al. Meat consumption in relation to mortality from cardiovascular disease among Japanese men and women. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013 Mar 13
6) Lajous M, et al. Processed and unprocessed red meat consumption and hypertension in women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 08/11/2014
7) Parr CL, et al. Meat intake, cooking methods and risk of proximal colon, distal colon, and rectal cancer: The Norwegian Women and Cancer (NOWAC) cohort study. Int J Cancer. 02/08/13
8) Rohrmann S,, et al. Meat consumption and mortality-results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. BMC. 2013; 11:63
9) Micha R, et al. Red and processed meat consumption and risk of incident coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Circulation. 2010;121