Few food items (apart from processed food) have suffered as much abuse and torment in recent years as good ol’ red meat. It was a survival essential for our hunter-gatherer ancestors, so what has changed in a few hundred years? A lot apparently. Lets take a closer look at why we are so wary of the very food that shaped our species for thousands of years before we suddenly decided it was rogue.
Red meat is any meat that comes from a mammal, and includes in its category lamb, mutton, veal, pork and the notorious beef. Most types of red meat contain high quantities of protein, saturated fats, and iron. While animal protein and iron are accepted by our bodies favorably and broken down into useful by products, concern over the saturated fat content is what has driven the recent decrease in red meat consumption in humans. Concerns over its link with heart disease, artery blockage and other chronic diseases has led to awareness about limiting the red meat content in our diet, and instead replace it with healthier, plant based proteins. Animal welfare advocacy groups have also played an important role in this downward trend.
Some of the documented health risks that arise from excessive red meat consumption are:
Cancer: There is some evidence shown by studies that there is a link between increased red meat consumption and certain types of cancer, especially pancreatic, prostate and colo-rectal cancers. Processed meats have also been strongly implicated in studies showing link between these types of meat and cancers.
Heart disease: The link between heart disease and red meat intake has existed for a long time now.
Even though the meat industry contends there is no link between red meat, processed meats, and cancer, and says that lean red meat fits into a heart-healthy diet, many studies have found otherwise and conclude that those who ate a Western-style diet high in red and processed meats, desserts, refined grains, and French fries had an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, and death from other causes.
Despite these numerous studies, few recent papers suggest shifting the trends towards lower intake as opposed to complete elimination. A recent study by researchers from Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN, for example, found that eating 3 ounces of red meat three times weekly did not lead to an increase in risk factors for cardiovascular disease. When consumed in moderate amounts, red meat has immense health advantages in terms of protein, heme-iron and other nutrients. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends limiting weekly intake of red meat to no more than 18 ounces. It also recommends cutting out processed meats such as deli meats, salami, sausages and others completely.
So, although red meat may not be the red devil it is being made out to be by vegetarians, vegans, and other healthy eaters, it is by no means recommended to consume large amounts fairly regularly. Restricting weekly intake to a maximum of 18 ounces (between 1.5 and 2 pounds) of preferably leaner cuts will see you obtain all the health benefits, while not putting you at increased risk of cardiovascular events or cancer.