What's red meat?

Red meat is neither exclusively bad or good. If eaten within a well-balanced diet, it can actually be quite good for you. But, if you eat too much red meat or eat it in an unhealthy way, red meat can be bad for you.
Red meat is neither exclusively bad or good. If eaten within a well-balanced diet, it can actually be quite good for you. But, if you eat too much red meat or eat it in an unhealthy way, red meat can be bad for you.

The phrase “plant-based” has become a buzzword nowadays. Somehow, it has even become shorthand for healthy. But, is this true? Are plant-based foods healthy and meats unhealthy? What about red meat in particular?

The answer isn’t always as simple as you might think. Read on to learn the truth about red meat — the good and the bad.

Meat is labeled as red meat depending on how much myoglobin it contains. This myoglobin is a naturally occurring protein that turns the meat red when it is exposed to oxygen. The more myoglobin the meat contains, the darker red it’ll appear. Red meat comes from pork, lamb, veal, and beef because of their higher myoglobin content than fish and poultry.

What are the pros and cons of red meat?

Red meat is neither exclusively bad or good. If eaten within a well-balanced diet, it can actually be quite good for you. This is because red meat has many vitamins, minerals, and nutrients including protein, B vitamins, iron, and zinc.

But, if you eat too much red meat or eat it in an unhealthy way, red meat can be bad for you. Doctors recommend that you limit your intake of red meat to one or two servings a week. Reasons to limit or not eat red meat include:

  • Cancer-causing properties. The World Health Organization (WHO) places red meats at the same level of cancer risk as cigarettes and alcohol. In addition, it shows an increased risk for colon cancer if someone eats two slices of bacon per day.
  • High cardiovascular risk. High cholesterol from red meat is linked to cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, and strokes. Eating less cholesterol is linked to a smaller risk of obesity.
  • High cost. Red meat is generally more expensive than meat-free proteins. Eating a vegetarian diet can reduce the cost of your food.
  • Undesirable environmental impact. Cattle farming has a significant impact on the environment. Over 30 percent of the world’s grains are grown to use as cattle feed. Beef also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

Processed red meat — like bacon as well as deli meats (sausages, salamis, ham, etc.) — can be especially bad for you. They have additives like sodium, nitrites, and heme, which can lead to cancer.

Even the products with the label “no nitrites or nitrates added” may contain a substance or two with nitrites. These additives are harmful to you — especially if you're pregnant as they can harm your baby.

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Is red meat ever necessary?

You don’t have to eat red meat to be fully nourished. While it has high amounts of protein, you can meet your total nutritional need for protein with poultry, fish, eggs, and nuts. Also, because red meat comes with some unhealthy and negative environmental impacts, you can make a difference by limiting your intake and viewing it as a luxury.

Choosing the healthiest red meats

It’s also best to look for the red meat that’s the lowest in chemicals and additives. Some of the healthiest red meat options include:

  • Pork. Try to find leaner cuts of pork like pork loin, tenderloin, and center-cut pork chops. If you can see fatty parts of the meat, cut it off. Try not to eat sausages, bacon, or cholesterol-rich deli cuts.
  • Steaks. Look for lean cuts of steaks like the round, sirloin, tenderloin, and ball tips. Cut the fatty part off. More lean cuts will have a better ratio of protein and also fewer calories.
  • Ground meats. These often have a better ratio of meat to fat. There are different varieties of ground meat, but you can find meats that are 90% meat to 10% fat. You’ll usually find ground chicken, turkey, pork, and beef in your grocery stores.

What are the best ways to cook red meat?

The best ways to cook your red meats are:

  • Baking
  • Broiling
  • Grilling
  • Roasting
  • Poaching
  • Air frying

While you shouldn’t eat red meat in excess — especially if it’s processed — you can add it in a small amount to an otherwise healthy diet.

Before wondering if red meat is healthy or not, consider how healthy your lifestyle and diet are. Think about how you eat and what’s beneficial for you.

Also, remember that what you eat has environmental effects. Consider if you value eating red meat or choose to eat plant-based for environmental reasons.

QUESTION

According to the USDA, there is no difference between a “portion” and a “serving.” See Answer

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Medically Reviewed on 10/6/2021
References

Cleveland Clinic: “Is Red Meat Bad for You?”

Harvard Health Publishing: “What’s the Beef With Red Meat?”

Michigan State University Extension: “The Color of Meat Depends on Myoglobin, Part 1.”

National Institutes of Health: “Risk in Red Meat?”

Nutrition and Dietetics: “Nutritional Composition of Red Meat.

TuftsNow: “Busting Myths About Red Meat.”

World Health Organization: “Cancer: Carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat.”