Whether or not red meat can be included as part of a healthy
diet is one of the most hotly debated topics in the nutrition
field. From a purely health-minded perspective (there are
those, of course, who choose not to eat meat for ethical reasons)
the conventional and naturalist camps are clearly divided.
Should You Limit or Avoid Red Meat in Your Diet?
According to the American Dietetic Association, lean
beef is equal to skinless chicken when it comes to lowering
The mainstream perspective in the United States is that red
meat should be a very limited part of a healthy diet. This
is primarily based on the fact that it contains saturated
fat, which the American Heart Association says is the main
dietary cause of high blood cholesterol.
Meanwhile, studies have linked red meat to a number of chronic
Conventionally speaking, it is because of findings like these
that the common healthy diet mantra in the United States sounds
something like this:
"The less red meat the better," says Dr. Walter
Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard
School of Public Health. "At most, it should be eaten
only occasionally. And it may be maximally effective not to
eat red meat at all."
Red Meat Does Contain Healthy Nutrients
Then there are those who point out that red meat does have
some redeeming qualities.
"Meat is the single richest source of iron and zinc
and contributes significant amounts of vitamins," says
Mary Abbott Hess, a registered dietitian and former president
of the American Dietetic Association (ADA).
Meanwhile, a three-ounce serving of beef provides 50 percent
of the daily recommended protein, along with beneficial B
vitamins. And as for all that saturated fat, according to
the ADA "more than half the fatty acids in beef are monounsaturated,
the same type of fatty acids found in olive oil and championed
for their heart-healthy properties. In addition, approximately
one-third of the saturated fat in beef is stearic acid, which
is shown to have a neutral effect on blood cholesterol."
The ADA advises that Americans can eat six ounces of lean
red meat five or more days a week and still be eating a diet
that could decrease
cholesterol levels. Surprisingly, they say lean beef is
just as effective as skinless chicken when it comes to lowering
If You Eat Red Meat, What Kind is Best?
There are those in the natural health field who oppose red
meat for ethical reasons, and there are those who are fans
of red meat ... as long as it comes from quality sources.
Conventional meat is typically raised on corporate factory
farms that are inhumane to animals and unhealthy for you.
Animals raised in mass factory farms are pumped full of antibiotics,
hormones and other drugs (about 70 percent of all antibiotics
and similar drugs produced in the United States are given
to livestock and poultry), while being fed an unhealthy mix
of pesticide-laden grains.
If you are not familiar with factory-farming practices and
what that means for the food you feed your family, The
Meat You Eat: How Corporate Farming Has Endangered America's
Food Supply, is a highly recommended book on the topic.
It's a quick read, and one that can help lead to a positive
transformation in both a big-picture and personal sense.
When it comes to red meat, choosing sources that have been
raised in humane, natural ways --- which means being raised
on pasture, or grass-fed -- is the healthier choice, according
to many experts. Grass-fed beef has been found to contain
less fat and more omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic
acid (CLA) and other beneficial compounds compared to grain-fed
What About Cooking and Processing?
Adding to the complexity, the way red meat is cooked and
processed can also impact its nutritional value. Processed
meats are known to be among the worst way to consume red meats
because they contain
a number of additives, one being sodium
nitrite, a preservative that's been linked to cancer.
red meat at high temperatures, such as frying, searing,
grilling or broiling, is also problematic. It's known to produce
heterocyclic amines, chemicals that may cause cancer.
Add up all of the above and you're left with a personal decision
that only you can make. While some say you're better off avoiding
red meat entirely, others point out its beneficial nutrients,
particularly when it comes from a healthy, humanely raised
is REALLY in a Hot Dog? And How Unhealthy Are They?
Number of Approved Meat Additives Expanded by the FDA -- and
None of the Additives Need to be on the Label
of Internal Medicine 2006;166:2253-2259