Top 6 Benefits of Red Meat

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Health benefits of red meat

Red meat has many benefits thanks to an abundance of macro and micronutrients. Red meat provides complete proteins, healthy fats, B vitamins, and numerous meat-specific nutrients. 

In fact, red meat is among the most nutrient-dense foods on earth.   

Yet, since the 1950s, red meat has also been targeted by research aimed at linking it with heart disease and cancer. The good news is that despite the conflicting claims about the health effects of meat, modern research tells us that there is in fact, zero evidence that links eating fresh red meat to disease. 

In this article, we’ll review the evidence-based benefits of red meat.

Table of Contents

  • What is Red Meat? 
  • Is it Safe to Eat Red Meat: What Studies Say
  • Top 6 Benefits of Red Meat
  • 1 Red Meat is Loaded with Healthy Fats
  • 2 Eating Meat is Associated with Longevity
  • 3 Red Meat Supports Mental Health, Reduces Risk of Depression
  • 4 Better outcomes from High-Meat Low-Carb vs. Non-Meat Diets
  • 5 All Meat (Carnivore) Diets High In Red Meat Show Numerous Benefits
  • 6 Numerous Nutrients Found Only in Red Meat
  • Benefits of Red Meat: The Bottom line 

What is Red Meat? 

Red meat is the meat of mammals high in a protein called myoglobin. When myoglobin binds with oxygen, it gives meat a red color.

Examples of red meat include:

  • beef 
  • veal 
  • pork 
  • lamb
  • goat
  • Bison
  • Elk
  • Venison 

Is it Safe to Eat Red Meat: What Studies Say

Before detailing the benefits of red meat, let’s take a moment to address the stigma against red meat. 

Though red meat has been targeted as a cause of disease since the 1950s, modern studies show that fresh red meat is, in fact, not associated with disease.

Red meat was first targeted for its saturated fat content. In the 1950s, a few influential scientists incorrectly linked saturated fat intake with heart disease. 

It has taken more than half a century to set the record straight. 

Numerous modern studies, including data from millions of participants, confirm that for the average person, saturated fat is not associated with heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and death from heart attack.

Health benefits of red meat

This bellwether 2020 study, co-authored by researchers from the world’s leading medical schools, concluded that consuming unprocessed red meat is not associated with heart disease. 

Health benefits of red meat

The authors stated, “Whole-fat dairy, unprocessed meat, and dark chocolate are SFA-rich foods with a complex matrix (of nutrients) that are not associated with an increased risk of CVD. The totality of available evidence does not support further limiting the intake of such foods.”

What about Cancer? 

As with heart disease, there is no reliable evidence linking fresh red meat with cancer. 

But this is not for lack of trying–there have been hundreds of studies attempting to make the link. For decades the suspicion itself was enough to convince health officials to recommend reducing meat intake. 

But what does the science actually say? 

Health benefits of red meat

In 2019 the NutriRECS study, most comprehensive research to date looked at data from 48 studies with over 5.7 million participants.

The researchers concluded that: 

  • organizations like the WHO that use observational studies for their recommendations do not issue rigorous reviews of the studies
  • Reducing fresh red meat has no impact on incidences of prostate cancer mortality, as well as incidences of overall, breast, colorectal, esophageal, gastric, pancreatic, and prostate cancer
  • Very weak evidence that processed meat is associated with a very small absolute risk reduction in overall lifetime cancer mortality; prostate cancer mortality; and the incidence of esophageal, colorectal, and breast cancer (range, 1 fewer to 8 fewer events per 1000 persons with a decrease of 3 servings/wk), with no statistically significant differences in incidence or mortality for 12 additional cancer outcomes (colorectal, gastric, and pancreatic cancer mortality; overall, endometrial, gastric, hepatic, small intestinal, oral, ovarian, pancreatic, and prostate cancer incidence)”
  • Final Recommendations: Contrary to the WHO, the researchers recommend continuing to eat both fresh red meat and processed meats. 

For an in-depth look at research on the questions of red meat and cancer, click here. 

Top 6 Benefits of Red Meat

Over the decades, attempts to vilify red meat have distracted from its potent health benefits. 

The numerous benefits of red meat can be attributed to its robust macro and micronutrient profile. 

To explore the benefits of red meat, we’ll look both at studies showing the health effects of eating meat on a population level, as well as the benefits of specific nutrients found in abundance in red meat. 

1 Red Meat is Loaded with Healthy Fats

Red meat provides a complex of healthy fats, including saturated fat, monounsaturated fat, omega-3 fatty acids, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).  

Let’s look at how the fats in red meat can benefit your health:

  • monounsaturated fat has proven anti-inflammatory properties and has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease
  • The balance of saturated and unsaturated fats in red meat is essential to your bodies ability to create and maintain healthy cell membranes
  • Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) supports immune function and heart health, strengthens bones, reduces excess body fat, and has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of various cancers
  • Omega-3 fatty acids in red meat like lamb can be found in levels as high as salmon. Omega-3s play an important role in numerous physiological functions like male and female fertility and form the basis of hormones that regulate blood clotting and the health of your arterial walls  
  • Stearic acid, one of the most common saturated fats in red meat, has been shown to improve weight loss, support mitochondrial function, and shows no evidence of contributing to heart disease.

On the other hand, numerous studies have shown that substituting animal fats with industrial vegetable oils has resulted in increased risks of inflammation, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and various cancers. 

2 Eating Meat is Associated with Longevity

A study of more than 218,000 people from over 50 countries shows that consuming unprocessed meat regularly can reduce the risk of early death while increasing longevity.

Health benefits of red meat

These findings are independent of total caloric intake, economic status, urban advantages, and obesity [16].

Furthermore, Hong Kong, the country with the greatest total meat consumption and 3rd highest level of red meat consumption, also has the world’s longest life expectancy at 84.5 years. 

3 Red Meat Supports Mental Health, Reduces Risk of Depression

Numerous studies link eating red meat with improvements in mental health and reductions in symptoms of depression.

Read more  What’s the beef with red meat?

On the other hand, vegan and vegetarian diets are linked with psychiatric disorders and a significantly greater likelihood of depression.

In 2014, Austrian researchers published a study that included 330 vegetarians, 330 people who consumed a lot of red meat, 330 omnivores who ate less meat, and 330 people who consumed a little meat but ate mostly fruits and veggies. 

The subjects were matched for sex, age, and socio-economic status. Researchers found that vegetarians were twice as likely as the other groups to suffer from a mental illness such as anxiety and depression.

Health benefits of red meat

Though the study above didn’t identify a specific reason for meat’s benefits on mental health, it is likely do to the many nutrients that you find only, or mostly in meat.

For example, studies tell us that vitamin B12 and creatine–both found in high amounts in red meat–play a significant role in the reduction of depression.

Health benefits of red meat

Studies show that B12 figures in numerous physiological and neurochemical pathways to support stable mood and mental health.

Health benefits of red meat

In a 2018 French study of 90,000 adults, researchers looked at the impact that giving up various food groups had on depressive symptoms.  

The researchers found that incidences of depression increased with each food group that was given up. These included red meat, poultry, fish, and dairy. Participants who had given up at least three of four animal-based food groups had a nearly 250% greater risk of depression.

4 Better outcomes from High-Meat Low-Carb vs. Non-Meat Diets

When looking at the few quality randomized control trials comparing low-carb diets high in red meat to non-meat diets, the high meat diets showed dramatically better outcomes regarding cardiovascular health and weight loss.

Health benefits of red meat

5 All Meat (Carnivore) Diets High In Red Meat Show Numerous Benefits

Recent studies on ancestral eating enthusiasts practicing an all-meat carnivore diet have shown remarkably positive benefits. 

A 2021 study by Harvard University researchers Dr. Belinda Lennerz and Dr. David Ludwig gathered data from  2,029 carnivore dieters over 6 months.  

The researchers concluded: “Contrary to common expectations, adults consuming a carnivore diet experienced few adverse effects and instead reported health benefits and high satisfaction.”

Health benefits of red meat

Significant health benefits included:

  • 93% improved or resolved obesity and excess weight
  • 93% improved hypertension
  • 98% improved conditions related to diabetes
  • 97% improved gastrointestinal symptoms
  • 96% improved psychiatric symptoms

Similar to the Harvard study above, the Revero carnivore-based health program founded by Dr. Shawn Baker found similarly robust health benefits, including widespread symptom reversals and medication terminations. 

In fact, 79% of survey participants eliminated or reduced all medications after 3 months.

Health benefits of red meat

6 Numerous Nutrients Found Only in Red Meat

Health benefits of red meat

Red meat provides an abundance of micronutrients, many of which are either exclusive to, or only found in abundance in, red meat. 

Here’s a rundown of the most potent red-meat-specific nutrients. 

Vitamin B12

  • B vitamins play an essential role in your body’s ability to convert food into energy
  • Promotes the formation of red blood cells that carry oxygen to the brain 
  • Boosts cognition
  • Mood stabilization and powerful anti-depressant effects
  • Up to 86% of vegan children, 90% of vegan elderly, and 62% of pregnant vegan women are B12 deficient
  • B12 deficiency can result in dementia and is associated with Alzheimer’s diseas3

Heme Iron

  • Only found in meat
  • Much more bioavailable than non-heme iron from plant foods
  • Essential role in the formation of red blood cells
  • Promotes energy metabolism
  • Supports proper immune function
  • Supports cognition
  • Without sufficient iron you will get anemia

Copper 

  • Essential for converting food into useable energy
  • Maintains the integrity of blood vessels 
  • Plays key role in formation of connective tissue
  • Plays an important role in immune function, nervous system health, gene activation, brain development, hormone metabolism, and fertility

Zinc 

  • Supports healthy immune response
  • In males, low zinc levels are associated with erectile dysfunction and lower sperm count  
  • Protects against heart disease
  • Zinc from animal sources is 400% more bioavailable than zinc found in grains  
  • Vegans and vegetarians have chronically low zinc levels
  • Zinc deficiency inhibits motor and cognitive development in children  
  • Critical to insulin formation–supports glycemic control for diabetics  

Carnosine

  • Prevents agingn by protecting against damage and shortening of telomeres  
  • May protect against cognitive decline
  • Concentrated in areas of the body with high energy demands, including the heart, brain, and muscles, where it protects from wear and tear 
  • Prevents glycation–the damaging process of sugar molecules attaching to cells and DNA [27]
  • A potent antioxidant [25]

Carnitine

  • Boosts male fertility [29]
  • Reduces anemia, especially when co-occurring with kidney dysfunction [30]
  • Reduces inflammation associated with heart disease [28]
  • reducing blood pressure  [29]
  • Supports brain function [27]
  • Supports mitochondrial function and insulin sensitivity for people with type 2 diabetes [31]
  • In heart attack patients, carnitine has been shown to prevent ischemia in cardiac muscle [32]

Creatine

  • Supports cognitive function [33]
  • Improves athletic performance in both vegetarians and omnivores [34]
  • Alzheimer’s patients show lower creatine levels [35]
  • Supports heart health
  • Can improve glycemic control [36]

Taurine

  • Strong antioxidant effects [37]
  • Reduces glycation [38]
  • Reduces inflammation and oxidative stress
  • Acts as an antidepressant, likely accounting for the sense of well-being that many people feel after eating meat [39]

CoQ10

  • Supports energy generation in cells by making adenosine triphosphate (ATP) [40]
  • Powerful antioxidant effects linked to anti-cancer properties [41]
  • Reduces fatigue
  • Increases sperm motility [42]

Benefits of Red Meat: The Bottom line 

The many benefits of red meat are attributable to its abundance of both macro and micronutrients. 

In fact, red meat provides a complex of essential nutrients in near-perfect proportions for our bodies and in the most bioavailable formats. 

The nutrients provided by red meat support numerous physiological functions, including:

  • Healthy fertility 
  • Energy production
  • Anti-aging
  • Gene expression
  • Mental health
  • Cognitive ability 
  • Immune function

Article Sources

  • 1. Myoglobin chemistry and meat color
  • 2. Reduction in saturated fat intake for cardiovascular disease
  • 3. Intake of saturated and trans unsaturated fatty acids and risk of all cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes: systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies
  • 4. Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease
  • 5. Effect of the amount and type of dietary fat on cardiometabolic risk factors and risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer: a systematic review
  • 6. Association of dietary, circulating, and supplement fatty acids with coronary risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis
  • 7, 23. Saturated Fats and Health: A Reassessment and Proposal for Food-Based Recommendations: JACC State-of-the-Art Review
  • 8. Unprocessed Red Meat and Processed Meat Consumption: Dietary Guideline Recommendations From the Nutritional Recommendations (NutriRECS) Consortium
  • 9. Impact of dietary fat on gut microbiota and low-grade systemic inflammation: mechanisms and clinical implications on obesity
  • 10. Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association
  • 11. The Various Roles of Fatty Acids
  • 12. A review on effects of conjugated linoleic fatty acid (CLA) upon body composition and energetic metabolism
  • 13. Conjugated linoleic acid reduces body fat mass in overweight and obese humans
  • 14. Implication of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) in human health
  • 15. Treatment with dietary trans10cis12 conjugated linoleic acid causes isomer-specific insulin resistance in obese men with the metabolic syndrome
  • 16. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
  • 17. Dietary stearic acid regulates mitochondria in vivo in humans
  • 18. Cardiovascular disease risk of dietary stearic acid compared with trans, other saturated, and unsaturated fatty acids: a systematic review
  • 19. Total Meat Intake is Associated with Life Expectancy: A Cross-Sectional Data Analysis of 175 Contemporary Populations
  • 20. Nutrition and Health – The Association between Eating Behavior and Various Health Parameters: A Matched Sample Study
  • 21. Depressive Symptoms and Vegetarian Diets: Results from the Constances Cohort
  • 22. Systematic review of randomized controlled trials of low-carbohydrate vs. low-fat/low-calorie diets in the management of obesity and its comorbidities
  • 24. Behavioral Characteristics and Self-Reported Health Status among 2029 Adults Consuming a “Carnivore Diet”
  • 25. Revero Testimonials
  • 26. Vitamin B12 Fact Sheet for Health Professionals
  • 27. Vitamin B12 Supplementation: Preventing Onset and Improving Prognosis of Depression
  • 28. Iron Status of Vegetarian Adults: A Review of Literature
  • 29. Total iron and heme iron content and their distribution in beef meat and viscera
  • 30. Copper Fact Sheet for Health Professionals
  • 31. Zinc is an Essential Element for Male Fertility: A Review of Zn Roles in Men’s Health, Germination, Sperm Quality, and Fertilization
  • 32. Bioavailability of iron, zinc, and other trace minerals from vegetarian diets
  • 33. Zinc deficiency and child development
  • 34. Role of Zinc Homeostasis in the Pathogenesis of Diabetes and Obesity
  • 35. Antioxidant activity of carnosine, homocarnosine, and anserine present in muscle and brain
  • 36. Antioxidative and anti-inflammatory protection from carnosine in the striatum of MPTP-treated mice

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— Update: 25-12-2022 — We found an additional article Does Red Meat Have Health Benefits? A Look at the Science from the website www.healthline.com for the keyword health benefits of red meat.

While the health effects of red meat on health have been heavily researched, most of these studies are observational, meaning that they’re designed to detect associations but cannot prove causation (cause and effect).

Observational studies tend to have confounding variables — factors other than the ones being studied that might be influencing the outcome variable (13).

It’s impossible to control for all of these factors and determine if red meat is a “cause” of any health outcome. That limitation is important to keep in mind when reviewing the research and determining if red meat is something you’d like to incorporate into your regular diet.

Red meat and heart disease

Several observational studies show that red meat is associated with a greater risk of death, including heart disease (14, 15).

One study in 43,272 males showed that consuming a higher amount of red meat — including both processed and unprocessed varieties — was associated with a higher risk of heart disease (16).

Furthermore, the same study concluded that substituting red meat with plant-based proteins such as legumes, nuts, or soy could possibly reduce the risk of developing heart disease (16).

Other research indicates the risk may vary between processed or unprocessed meat.

Processed meat

Another large study including 134,297 individuals found that consuming at least 5.3 oz. (150 gm) of processed meat per week was significantly associated with an increased risk of death and heart disease (17).

One of the reasons processed meats may be more strongly associated with heart disease risk is the high salt content. Excessive sodium intake has been linked to high blood pressure (19).

Unprocessed meat

Conversely, the study of more than 130,000 participants found no association between unprocessed red meat consumption, even in amounts of 8.8 oz. (250 gm) or more per week (17).

Another review of controlled studies concluded that eating half a serving (1.25 oz. or 35.4 gm) or more of unprocessed red meat daily doesn’t adversely affect heart disease risk factors, such as blood lipids and blood pressure levels (18).

Randomized controlled trials — which are considered to be of higher quality than observational studies — appear to support these results.

Bottom line

It’s still important to keep in mind that both processed and unprocessed types of red meat are high in saturated fat, which can increase LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, a risk factor for heart disease (8).

For this reason, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting saturated fat intake to less than 6% of total daily calories, choosing lean cuts of meat when possible, and limiting consumption of processed meats (15, 20).

Red meat and cancer

Observational studies show that both processed and unprocessed red meat consumption is associated with an increased risk of certain cancers, especially colorectal and breast cancers (21, 22, 23).

In fact, in 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) cancer agency classified red meat as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” They also classified processed meat as “carcinogenic to humans,” noting that processed meat has been shown to cause colorectal cancer (24).

A review of studies also found that people who consumed high amounts of processed and unprocessed meats had a 9% and 6% greater risk of developing breast cancer, respectively, compared to those who consumed the lowest amount (21).

While it’s not fully understood how red and processed meats increase the risk of certain cancers, it’s thought that using nitrites to cure meat and smoking meats can produce carcinogenic (cancer-causing) compounds. High heat cooking, such as grilling, may also create cancer-promoting compounds (25, 26).

That being said, more research is needed to understand the effects of processed and unprocessed red meat intake on cancer development.

Red meat and type 2 diabetes

Some research suggests that red meat consumption may be linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

For example, one study found that replacing one serving of red meat per day with a serving of eggs was linked to a decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, even after adjusting for other factors like body mass index and belly fat (27).

Similarly, another study showed that swapping red meat with other sources of protein was tied to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. This association was found for processed and unprocessed meat varieties but was more significant with processed red meat (28).

Furthermore, according to a review of 15 studies, people who consumed the highest amounts of processed and unprocessed red meats were 27% and 15% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, respectively, compared to those who consumed the lowest amounts (29).

Still, more high quality studies are needed to evaluate the relationship between red meat intake and type 2 diabetes and to understand whether other factors may also be involved.


— Update: 25-12-2022 — We found an additional article Is Red Meat Bad for You? from the website health.clevelandclinic.org for the keyword health benefits of red meat.

It’s the age old food debate – is red meat healthy or not? 

Put simply, it depends. Health benefits and consequences often boil down to what type of red meat you’re eating, how often and how much. But generally speaking, choosing white meat or vegetarian options are your best bets for living an overall healthier lifestyle.  

Here, registered dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, discusses the pros, cons and everything you should consider when it comes to consuming red meat.

What is considered red meat?

Meats are categorized as either white or red based off the amount of myoglobin found in the animal’s muscles. Myoglobin is a protein found in meat that produces a red color when it’s exposed to oxygen.

Red meat is the meat of mammals and includes the livestock category, which is pork, lamb, veal and beef.

What is the healthiest red meat?

“There’s evidence that shows red meat and processed meats – such as bacon and sausage – are not good for your health,” says Zumpano. “Anytime you choose to have red meat, it should be the leanest cut you can find and you should limit the amount.”

Here’s what to consider:

  • Pork: Choose lean options of pork such as a pork loin, tenderloin and center cut chops. Cut any visible fat off the pork. Avoid items such as sausage and bacon.
  • Steak: Choose leaner cuts of steak such as flank, round, sirloin, tenderloin and ball tip. These cuts will usually have less calories and fat and more protein than some of the other options. Cut any visible fat off the steak.
  • Ground meat: A variety of meats are available ground – chicken, turkey, pork and beef. Read labels and select meats that are at least 90% lean meat (no more than 10% fat).

When you prepare red meat, focus on dry cooking methods, like baking, broiling, grilling, roasting, poaching or air frying.

How often should you eat red meat?

Try to limit your red meat consumption to 1 to 2 serving per week, which is 6 ounces or less per week. If you have heart disease or high cholesterol, the recommendation is to limit red meat to less than or equal to 3 ounces per week.

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Are there any health benefits of red meat?

Red meat actually has many vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that your body needs. Red meat can be a good source of protein, B vitamins, iron and zinc. But the cuvette lies in what type of red meat you’re eating and how often.  

Are there any health benefits of not eating red meat?

A plant-based diet that includes lots of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes and nuts is ideal, like the Mediterranean diet, which also includes fish and other white meats. People who don’t eat red meat (or greatly limit it) generally consume fewer calories, less fat and have a lower risk of heart disease and death. 

Why is eating red meat bad? 

From health complications to how it impacts the environment, here are four reasons to cut back on red meat:  

  1. Potentially cancer-causing. One study categorized processed meats as level 1 carcinogens, placing them in the same category as cigarettes and alcohol. The organization categorized red meat as a level 2a – probable carcinogen. This report looked at the rates of colon cancer and found that eating the equivalent of two slices of bacon per day increases the absolute risk of developing colon cancer by 1%. On the other hand, a diet rich in fiber, fruits and vegetables has been associated with a reduction in risk for the development of colon cancer.
  2. Cardiovascular health. Data has shown time and time again that red meat is linked with high cholesterol, and in turn, increases risk for cardiovascular disease such as heart attacks and strokes. Consumption of less meat also is associated with decreased rates of obesity in both children and adults.
  3. High cost. Meats cost significantly more than vegetarian proteins such as beans, nuts and tofu. Replacing one omnivore meal with a vegetarian meal can save more than $1 per person.
  4. The environment. Raising cattle significantly impacts the environment. More than 30% of grains grown in the world are fed to cattle. Cattle themselves produce significant amounts of greenhouse gases. Cutting back on meat consumption is not only healthy for you, but it’s also healthy for the environment. Reducing meat consumption will help keep our planet healthy for future generations.

5 ways to cut back on eating red meat

  1. Embrace meatless Monday. If you currently eat meat daily, choose one day per week to cook a vegetarian meal. There is a national movement to eat vegetarian on Mondays, but if another day works for your family – choose that day instead!
  2. Try vegetarian tapas. Many people find planning a vegetarian meal intimidating if they’re accustomed to eating a dinner with a main dish of meat. To ease into a vegetarian meal, try making three to four side dishes and serve them family-style. You can let each member of the family pick a dish to try to turn it into a meal.
  3. Start cooking with seafood. Cook fish or other seafood one night per week. Use either fresh, frozen or canned and add it to your weekly menu rotation.
  4. Swap red for white. When cooking your favorite recipes that call for ground meat, reach for ground turkey or chicken instead. These white-meat options work great in dishes such as tacos and chili.
  5. Put veggies on display. Don’t try to replace red meat with imitation meat products like veggie dogs. Instead, embrace the vegetables for what they are. Focus on choosing recipes that highlight vegetables, rather than hiding them.


— Update: 25-12-2022 — We found an additional article What’s the beef with red meat? from the website www.health.harvard.edu for the keyword health benefits of red meat.

A recent study suggested that eating red or processed meats won’t necessarily harm your health. What is the truth?

Health benefits of red meat

The news headlines were everywhere: “It’s Okay to Eat Red Meat.” The source for this statement was a study published online Oct. 1, 2019, in Annals of Internal Medicine.

An international team of researchers conducted five systematic reviews that looked at the effects of red meat and processed meat on multiple health issues, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and premature death.

The researchers found “low” evidence that either red meat or processed meat is harmful. Their advice: there’s no need to reduce your regular red meat and processed meat intake for health reasons.

Unsurprisingly, the backlash from the science community was sharp and swift. For instance, Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health issued a statement that the new advice could potentially harm people’s health.

“This new red meat and processed meat recommendation was based on flawed methodology and a misinterpretation of nutritional evidence,” says Dr. Frank Hu, chair of the Department of Nutrition. “The authors used a method often applied to randomized clinical trials for drugs and devices, which is typically not feasible in nutritional studies.”

A look at the evidence

The study and its widespread reaction have once again brought up the question of whether red meat and processed meat are bad for your health and if people should cut them out or simply cut back.

So what are the facts? Here’s a look at the main issues and questions regarding the role of red and processed meats in your diet.

Red and processed meats do increase health risks. In spite of what the Annals of Internal Medicine study suggests, Dr. Hu says that an accumulated body of evidence shows a clear link between high intake of red and processed meats and a higher risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and premature death. “The evidence is consistent across different studies,” he says.

But the key word here is “high.” Dr. Hu points out that the exact amounts for safely consuming red meat are open to debate.

“The evidence shows that people with a relatively low intake have lower health risks,” he says. “A general recommendation is that people should stick to no more than two to three servings per week.”

Dr. Hu suggests that people focus not so much on actual serving sizes, but rather on red meat’s placement in meals. “Instead of the main course, use red meat as a side dish,” he says. “Consider red meat a luxury and not a staple food.

For processed meat, Dr. Hu says there is a much stronger association with a higher risk of heart disease and cancer (especially colon cancer).

Processed meat products contain high amounts of additives and chemicals, which may contribute to health risks. “Again, there is not a specific amount that is considered safe, so you should keep processed meat intake to a minimum,” he says.

You don’t need to eat red meat. Red meat has high amounts of protein, which helps promote muscle growth, and vitamin B12 to make red blood cells. For example, a 3-ounce serving has about 45% of the Daily Value (DV) of protein and 35% of the DV for B12. A serving of red meat is also a good source of zinc, which can help the body produce testosterone, and selenium, a powerful antioxidant. Plus, red meat is rich in iron. However, Dr. Hu says that you don’t need to eat red meat to get these essential nutrients. “You can get the same amounts — and in some cases even more — from poultry, fish, eggs, and nuts, and as well as by following a plant-based diet.”

Some kinds of red meat are not necessarily healthier. There are no firm studies that have shown nutritional or health advantages from eating organic or grass-fed beef.

“These types of red meat are often more desirable as they contain low or no growth hormones compared with grain-fed beef, but it’s still not clear if they offer any health benefits,” says Dr. Hu.

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References

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