Posted on Sat, 13 Feb 10
Red meat does not increase cardiovascular disease may lower cholesterol and is an important source of nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, niacin, zinc and iron. If eaten lean and in moderation that is. Considering the benefits of lean red meat the popular notion that red meat is bad for you may be somewhat misleading.
At the heart of our history
For at least two million years red meat has been a predominant part of our ancestral diet where it provided a unique source of nutrients and even shaped human evolution. Importantly the meat our ancestors ate differed from meat produced by modern feed-lot farming in that it was wild game meat which is comparatively much lower in total and saturated fat and a rich source of beneficial polyunsaturated fatty acids (1). Interestingly, despite their meat based diets, our ancestors had little evidence of heart disease.
A review of 54 studies investigating the association between red meat and heart disease found that lean red meat trimmed of visible fat does not increase risk factors for heart disease such as total blood cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol levels or markers of clotting and inflammation. The review concluded that lean red meat, when consumed as part of a healthy diet, does not increases heart disease risk factors (2).
Grass fed and game meat
Game (wild) and grass fed meats such as beef and lamb are not only naturally lean (an average serving of minced beef contains 22% fat whereas grass feed beef may be as low as 2.5% fat) but are also a rich in healthy fats such as the omega-3 fatty acids (3). This difference between feed-lot fed meat and more natural grass fed and wild game meats may explain why our ancestors had little evidence of heart disease despite regular consumption of red meat. Our ancestors, it should be noted, also generally ate more fruits and vegetables, less salt, exercised more and didn’t smoke which serves as reminder that red meat consumption should be balanced with a healthy diet and lifestyle (4).
How much meat to eat?
The nutritional benefits of lean red meat are not an argument for excessive consumption. It is clear that diets high in red meat and in particular processed meats increase risk of chronic diseases such as cancer (5). It is also clear that global red meat intake needs to be reduced for both health and environmental reasons (6).
To reduce cancer risk aim for no more than 500 grams or 18 oz. (cooked weight) per week of lean red meats, like beef, pork and lamb, and avoid processed meat such as ham, bacon, salami, hot dogs and sausages (7). If you eat red meat every day Harvard Medical School suggest that you should frequently switch to fish, chicken, or beans instead (8).
1. Mann N. Dietary lean red meat and human evolution. Eur J Nutr. 2000 Apr;39(2):71-9.
2. Li D, Siriamornpun S, Wahlqvist ML, Mann NJ, Sinclair AJ. Lean meat and heart health. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2005;14(2):113-9.
3. Cordain L. Grass Fed Beef. [unpublished].
4. Cordain L, Eaton SB, Miller JB, et al. The paradoxical nature of hunter-gatherer diets: meat-based, yet non-atherogenic. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2002 Mar;56 Suppl 1:S42-52.
5. Sinha R, Cross AJ, Graubard BI, Leitzmann MF, Schatzkin A. Meat intake and mortality: a prospective study of over half a million people. Arch Intern Med. 2009; 169(6):562-571.
6. Popkin BM. Reducing meat consumption has multiple benefits for the world's health. Arch Intern Med. 2009 Mar 23;169(6):543-5.
7. The World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective. Washington, DC: AICR; 2007
8. Havard Medical School. The Nutrition Source. Food Pyramids: What Should You Really Eat? www.hsph.harvard.edu. Accessed on-line 15-02-2010