Eating red meat can be a slightly controversial topic. Many people enjoy it and many people do not eat it at all and think it is the worst thing to put in their body. Who is right? Shouldn’t we look at all of the positives and negatives of red meat before we make a decision? My personal opinion is that you should eat some red meat in moderation. Unless of course, you are a vegan and do not believe in eating any meat. For the sake of this blog post we will not consider ethical reasons for not eating meat. We will solely focus on the health reasons for why you should or should not eat red meat.
My opinion on red meat does come from when I was a vegan. I was trying a vegan diet because of health and ethical reasons. I was seeing videos and articles about the benefits of a vegan diet so I decided to give it a try. While I was vegan I was having trouble with my memory. I just felt burnt out and had a mind fog. I was trying to supplement vitamin B12 but it was still an issue. I was worried and decided that I should try to eat some meat again and I felt better. Now that I am no longer a vegan I don’t have that issue. I believe it was those B vitamins that come naturally in red meat. Again, this is just my opinion. Let’s see what some of the research says.
Let’s start by looking at the negatives. One of the biggest reasons why people might not eat red meat is its link with cancer. That would probably be enough for someone to want to slow down their consumption, right? Is there an actual link between cancer cell growth and red meat? One study found a 12- 17% increase in colorectal cancer when red meat consumption was increased by 100 grams per day (1). Other studies suggest similar results. Some would say that knowing this fact alone would deter anyone from eating red meat. However, many people continue to eat it so let’s look at some other factors.
Another negative of eating red meat is that it is high in saturated fat. Saturated fat can raise your cholesterol and cause heart disease. In a study that had a group of men eat a diet higher in fruits, vegetables, and less red meat versus a group eating what they called a ‘western diet’ which contained more red meat along with higher amounts of grains, processed meats, and sugar showed an increase in heart disease in the group with the high red meat ‘western diet’ (2). However, it is hard to separate what may have been caused by the other aspects of their diet.
If you are going to eat red meat I recommend that you stay away from processed red meats. Studies show that unprocessed red meats carry less of a risk of developing heart disease compared to processed red meats (2). The difference being that processed meats contain more sodium and preservatives compared to fresh unprocessed meats. This means you should stay away from things like sausage, salami, overly processed ground beef and burgers, and any other foods containing red meat by-products.
There are also benefits to red meat. It can’t be all bad, right? One of the benefits is the iron contained in the meat. Iron is contained in red meat because of the hemoglobin found in the blood. Iron is best absorbed from sources derived from hemoglobin. Iron is important in the body because it carries oxygen on your red blood cells to your muscles. Iron deficiencies can be especially pronounced in woman, so it may be important to keep red meat in mind as a source of iron. Iron deficiencies can slow down the production of red blood cells which can cause fatigue and other issues.
As I mentioned earlier, red meat contains vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 only exists in animal foods. B12 is important for creating new blood cells. It is also important for DNA synthesis and proper nerve function. B12 deficiencies can cause many issues like fatigue and as I mentioned earlier, memory loss and confusion. I don’t know for sure if I was having problems with my memory because of a B12 deficiency, but what I can tell you is that while I was vegan was the only time in my life that I have felt that way, and I have not always had the best diet even as a meat eater.
There are other reasons why red meat might have benefits like the fact that it is high in zinc, or that it is nutrient dense, and high in protein, or that it contains omega 3’s which are important for heart health. Each one of these may not need their own paragraph to demonstrate their benefits because they are all generally thought as healthy and beneficial. It can be argued that all of the benefits found in red meat can be gotten from other sources, but in my opinion I think that the nutrients like B12, iron, and zinc are most readily available to the body in red meat. It is the natural source of those nutrients and getting it elsewhere may be less efficient.
It should be up to each person to decide for themselves if they should eat red meat. The benefits and risks are becoming more and more known. For the most part the recommendation is that you eat red meat in moderation and it should be fresh unprocessed meat. I personally still eat the best quality steaks possible. I think I get a good energy boost from eating red meat that I don’t really find when I eat other foods. I am not really trying to tell you one way or another what you should do. I just think you should stay informed about the topic and make your own decision not based on fear of what other people tell you.
1. Faruk Aykan, Nuri. “Red Meat and Colorectal Cancer.” Oncol Rev. 2015 Feb 10; 9(1): 288, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4698595/.
2. Hu, Frank B. Eric B Rimm, Meir J Stampfer, Alberto Ascherio, Donna Spiegelman, and Walter C Willett. “Prospective study of major dietary patterns and risk of coronary heart diseasein men.” Am J Clin Nutr, October 2000, vol. 72, no., 4 912-921. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/72/4/912.short
3. Micha, Renata. Georgios Michas, Dariush Mozaffarian. “Unprocessed Red and Processed Meats and Risk of Coronary Artery Disease and Type 2 Diabetes – An Updated Review of the Evidence.” Current Atherosclerosis Reports, December 2012, Volume 14, Issue 6, pp 515- 524. https://link.springer.com/ article/10.1007/s11883-012-0282-8.