WHY IS RED MEAT GOOD FOR YOU?
Red meat, i.e. beef, lamb and pork, has a role to play in a healthy, balanced diet as it is a natural source of protein, iron, zinc and B vitamins.
The government recommends eating around 70g (cooked weight) of red meat a day and the majority of people in the UK are well within this target.
MEAT IS NUTRIENT-RICH
Red meat is naturally nutrient-rich, which means it provides a substantial amount of certain vitamins and minerals.
The B vitamins, thiamine and riboflavin, support skin health and stimulate the release of energy from dietary carbohydrates. Niacin is also important in energy release and supports digestive health.
Vitamin B6 is vital for normal immune function and helps to regulate blood sugar levels. Vitamin B12 is a building block for red blood cells and the DNA inside our cells. Vitamin B12 is naturally only found in foods of animal origin and red meat is a rich source.
Phosphorus, in conjunction with calcium and vitamin D, maintains bone strength, while zinc is important for normal wound healing and muscle recovery.
Protein is essential for growth, maintenance and repair and also provides us with some energy.
Protein from food consists of extensive chains of amino acids; some can be produced in the body, others cannot. These are described as essential amino acids. Red meat provides all of the essential amino acids that we need, so this kind of animal protein is described as having a higher biological value. Plant sources of protein do not provide all of the essential amino acids so they are described as having a lower biological value.
For long-term weight loss, improvements in satiety levels – a measure of the state of fullness between meals – have been demonstrated in people who opt for protein-rich foods like lean red meat as part of a reduced calorie, moderate fat diet.
Protein helps to build muscle, bone, cartilage and blood. Eating sufficient quantities of protein will even improve the strength and appearance of our skin and nails. By serving as a basic structural molecule of all tissues, protein plays a fundamental role in cellular maintenance and growth, as well as in the functioning of the human body.
So lean red meat supplies the essential amino acids required for growth and maintenance and we can include it as part of a healthy diet.
At all stages in life we require iron, and beef provides one of the richest sources.
Iron is essential for cell respiration and metabolism. Put simply, without it our cells would die.
Iron is vital for many processes:
- Energy metabolism
- Cognitive development in children
- The formation of red blood cells
- Transportation of oxygen in the blood
- Normal function of the immune system.
There are two forms of dietary iron: haeme and non-haeme. Iron from red meat is found in haeme form and is absorbed easily by the body. Iron in plants such as lentils and beans is called non-haeme iron and is absorbed less effectively.
Nowadays, iron deficiency anaemia is more common – especially among women, young girls and the elderly. Forty-six per cent of girls aged 11 to 18 years and 23% of women aged 19 to 64 years have low iron intakes.
If iron stores become low or, in extreme cases, exhausted through lack of dietary iron or blood loss, the supply of iron to the tissues can become compromised and symptoms may develop. Common symptoms of anaemia include headaches, lethargy, difficulty concentrating and irritability.
To aid the absorption of iron, vitamin C is helpful, so that is one important reason for having a balanced meal that includes vegetables or fruit.
A healthy diet including red meat should contain enough iron for most adults.
FACTS ABOUT FAT
All of us need some fat in our diet to provide us with energy and essential fatty acids – which are not made by the body, and to help the body absorb certain vitamins. However, it’s important not to have too much fat in your diet, so try to choose lower-fat foods.
The fat content of lean red meat has reduced substantially over the past few decades. A change in farming methods and butchery techniques now means that lean beef contains as little as 5% fat, lean pork 4% fat and lean lamb 8% fat.
Fat is made up of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. Saturated fatty acids are usually solid at room temperature and generally come from animal sources. High levels of saturated fat in the diet can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood, which increases the risk of heart disease.
Different food groups contribute different amounts of total and saturated fat in the diet, so it’s important to choose a balanced diet which is not too high in saturated fat.
Unsaturated fatty acids can be good for your health. They can be divided into two groups: monounsaturated fatty acids or MUFAs, and polyunsaturated fatty acids or PUFAs.
There are two families of PUFAs: the omega 3 family and the omega 6 family. Certain types of omega 3 PUFAs have been shown to be good for heart health. These omega 3 PUFAs can be found in meat produced from animals grazed on grass.
One of the best sources of omega 3 is oily fish, but health professionals tell us that most people’s diet is still lacking in omega 3. Eating meat from grass-fed beef or lamb can contribute to a healthy level of omega 3 in your diet.
To keep the fat content of your diet low, here are some top tips:
Chose lean cuts of meat and lower fat products.Remove any visible fat before cooking.Avoid frying where possible – try grilling, dry frying, roasting or stir frying instead.Try not to add too much additional fat from oils, mayonnaise or dressings.Use low-fat alternatives of other ingredients.Remember to fill up with plenty of starchy foods, vegetables and fruit.
10 REASONS TO STOP EATING RED MEAT
If you’re thinking of going vegetarian (or at least flexitarian, for those who want a side of meat with their plants), this list is all the motivation you’ll need. The health and environmental costs of our meat-based food system might be enough to make you want to swap that steak for a salad—for good.
- EATING MEAT HARDENS BLOOD VESSELS
A compound found in red meat (and even used as an additive in some energy drinks) called carnitine has been found to cause atherosclerosis, the hardening or clogging of the arteries, according to a study published in the journal Nature Medicine. The research, which included more than 2,500 vegans, vegetarians, and omnivore cardiac patients, suggests that carnitine converts to a heart-damaging compound, trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO), via bacteria in the intestine. Researchers found that increased carnitine levels predicted increased risks for cardiovascular disease.
- YOUR VEGETARIAN FRIENDS MIGHT OUTLIVE YOU
A study from Harvard School of Public Health found an association with red meat consumption and increased risk of a shortened lifespan. Eating healthier protein sources such as fish, poultry, nuts, and legumes was associated with a lower risk of mortality. “We know processed red meat like hot dogs and salami are the worst,” says Larry Santora, MD, medical director of the Dick Butkus Center for Cardiovascular Wellness, Saint Joseph Hospital, Orange, California. The cause is not clear, but it may be in the preparation, since charring meat increases toxins (nitrosamines) that can lead to cancer of the stomach.
- YOU’RE EATING PINK SLIME
The meat industry refers to it as “lean finely textured beef (LFTB),” but the public knows it as pink slime. This meat additive contains fatty bits of leftover meat that’s heated, spun to remove the fat, and then treated with ammonia gas to kill bacteria. It’s then shipped off to grocery stores and meat packers, where the slime is added to ground beef (70% of supermarket ground beef contains the additive).
And the ammonia treatment may allow pathogens into the food supply. “The real danger comes from the preparation and the likelihood that the bacteria will spread in your kitchen,” says Michael Schmidt, PhD, professor at the department of microbiology and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina.
- THAT EXPENSIVE FILET MAY BE “GLUED” TOGETHER SCRAPS
Binding together smaller cuts of meat into a larger serving can be done with a “meat glue” called transglutaminase, an enzyme formerly harvested from animal blood, but now produced through fermentation of bacteria. When added to meat, it forms an invisible bond, making a round filet mignon shape out of smaller pieces. Although it’s on the USDA’s GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) list, the more pieces of stuck-together meat you’re eating, the higher the risk of contamination. “The question to ask is how many cows are in the ‘glue’ you’re eating,” says Dr. Schmidt. The more cows, the greater the risk. (Vegetarians, you’re not quite off the hook here: transglutaminase can be used in some meatless products like tofu, yogurt, and cereal, so buy products as close to their natural states as possible.)
- LIVESTOCK PRODUCTION IMPACTS THE PLANET IN A HUGE WAY
If you drive a fuel-efficient car and use reusable cloth grocery bags to shop, you can further help the planet by cutting out meat as well. Meat impacts the environment more than any other food we eat, mainly because livestock require much more land, food, water, and energy than plants to raise and transport. Producing a four-ounce (quarter pound) hamburger, for example, requires 7 pounds of grain and forage, 53 gallons of drinking water and irrigating feed crops, 75 square feet for grazing and growing feed crops, and 1,036 BTUs for feed production and transport—enough to power a microwave for 18 minutes.
- You can get sick from E. Coli
Foods most likely to sicken you with E. coli include unpasteurized (raw) milk and unpasteurized apple cider, according to the CDC, but cattle also present a major threat. Similar to the way the “meat glue” risk works, the risk of E. coli depends largely on the number of cows making up your ground beef. “Your burger may contain meat from fewer than 10 cows or more than 1,000. The only way to know is ask the butcher—most states have laws in place against fudging these facts that will not let them lie,” says Dr. Schmidt. The greater the number of cows in the hamburger, the greater the chance of contracting something that wasn’t intended to be in the meat, he says. E. coli can cause dehydration, abdominal cramps, and kidney failure.
- EATING MEAT UPS YOUR RISK OF TYPE 2 DIABETES
According to a report published by JAMA Internal Medicine, eating red or processed meat can, over time, increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. “Specifically, 3.5 ounces of red meat or 1.8 ounces of processed meat (e.g. a hot dog or 2 slices of bacon) daily led to a 19% and 51% increase in diabetes risk, respectively,” says Dan Nadeau, MD, endocrinologist at Mary and Dick Allen Diabetes Center at Hoag Hospital in Irvine, California. “Diets rich in animal products contribute to the increased risk incidence of obesity as well as type 2 diabetes in the U.S.”
- MEAT PUTS YOUR COLON AND BRAIN AT RISK
Meat contains a whole lot of iron which, when eaten in excess, can raise levels of iron in the brain and may increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, according to a recent study from UCLA. When iron accumulates in the brain, myelin—a fatty tissue that coats nerve fibers—is destroyed. This disrupts brain communication, and signs of Alzheimer’s appear.
Eating red and processed meats also greatly increases the risk of colorectal cancer in people with a genetic predisposition. Affecting one in three individuals, the gene plays a role in the immune system, according to researchers. If you have this gene, eating and digesting meat may trigger an immune or inflammatory response.
- MEAT IS CHOCK FULL OF HARMFUL HORMONES
Hormones added to red meat boost breast cancer risk, according to a large study of more than 90,000 women published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Women who ate more than 1.5 servings (approximately 6 ounces) of red meat per day had nearly double the risk of developing hormone-sensitive breast cancer than women who ate 3 or fewer servings per week. Researchers believe the hormones or hormone-like compounds in red meat increase cancer risk by attaching to specific hormone receptors on the tumors.