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Published On: Thu, Oct 25th, 2018

Is red meat bad for you? Here are some reasons you should not believe that

In the history of nutrition, few foods have managed to elicit polarizing reactions as red meat has – well, aside from the supplements business, or products like organic apricot seeds. Or, there have been enduring misconceptions surrounding it, that you are not sure whether it is good or bad for you. Is it really that harmful though, particularly from an objective standpoint?

First of all, red meat is all muscle meat that originates from animals, including goats, beef, lamb, pork, veal and mutton. It contains more of myoglobin (the protein that gives it the distinctive red color) than white meat. Even though human beings have consumed it since the earliest days of evolution, there are many claims that it can lead to extensive harm in the body and on long term health.

photo/Paul Keller, Flickr

The red meat as we know it today is not what it was before

Red meat is not a recent food – people have been eating it for centuries. However, as climates and environmental conditions have changed, so has the meat itself – meaning the red meat as we know it today is very different from the red meat eaten in the past.

For instance, the cattle from thousands of years ago roamed the earth freely and ate as much natural foods as they wanted –including natural grass that was not heavily polluted with chemicals. The meat you could get from such an animal was vastly different to the meat you will get today from a cow that has eaten grain-based food all its life, as well as being given antibiotics and hormones that promote growth.

In addition, many meat products go through high levels of processing even after the animals are slaughtered. The factory process could involve smoking and curing them, then they are treated using chemicals like preservatives and nitrates.

Because of this, it is essential to distinguish different types of meat. One is the processed meat, which is taken from the conventional cow and goes through processing methods, giving products like sausages. Conventional red meat is another, where the meat itself does not go through processing, but the cows grow under controlled conditions like zero grazing. The other kind of meat is the organic one, featuring animals that grow in natural conditions and the meat does not go through processing.

This makes you realize not all meat is the same. In addition, the studies on red eat are mostly carried out on animals that have been farmed under factory-like conditions and fed grain feeds, particularly in the United States.

Facts about red meat

It is highly nutritious

Despite what the naysayers will tell you, red meat remains one of the best foods in terms of its nutritive value. It comes packed with minerals, antioxidants, vitamins, and many other nutrients your body needs to maintain its long term health.

For instance, a 3.5 oz. part of raw ground beef will contain 25 percent of RDA of niacin (Vitamin B3), and 37 percent of RDA of cobalamin (Vitamin B12). It also contains 32 percent RDA of zinc, 24 percent RDA of selenium, 12 percent RDA of iron, and minerals and vitamins in less quantities.

Creatine and carnosine (two important amino acids) are also highly abundant in red meat, which is not the case in vegetarians. These have the potential to affect both brain and muscle functions. It is also important to note that grain-fed beef is less nutritious than grass-fed beef due to the nutrients that it lacks, including vitamins A and E and omega-3 fatty acids.

The links with diabetes and heart disease

Extensive scientific research has gone into discussing the effects of red meat on overall health. However, you must note that most of these are purely observational, meaning they can only see the associations but cannot prove the actual links.

Red meat has long been associated with increasing risk of death from diabetes, heart disease or cancer, but not all red meat has the same effects. For instance, a review of up to 20 studies revealed that there was no risk when examining unprocessed red meat, while processed red meat seemed to have higher chances.

The lesson here is that it is very important to distinguish between unprocessed and processed red meat, as they have vastly different effects. The studies also have their own problems and limitations, because it is impossible to reach strong and certain conclusions when all your data is only based on observational studies.

Red meat and the risk of cancer

There are many observational studies that show there is an increased risk of developing cancer when you consume red meat. This is particularly in regards to colorectal cancer, which happens to be among the five most commonly diagnosed cancer.

The problem with this conclusion is that it always groups unprocessed and processed red meat together, yet they clearly have vastly different effects. Some studies have also suggested that the chemicals that form as the meat cooks contribute to the higher risk, although this is not certain.

Correlation and causation are not the same

When you think about it, you will notice that all studies that claim the dangers of red meat all use observational studies, which are not scientifically proven. These studies can only show you the correlation – in other words, they show how two variables are connected to each other.

This means that they will tell you people that consume high amounts of red meat are likely to fall sick, but they will not show you how red meat is the cause of the illness. These studies have some confounding factors, which makes them doubtful as to their objectivity.

An example of this is the tendency of people who consume red meat to be less conscious of their health, so they also do not exercise, they smoke or drink alcohol, and they take more sugar, and so on. For a person who is health conscious, they will not face the same problem, regardless of whether they eat red meat or not.

Final thoughts

We have been told time and time again that red meat is bad for your health, but it actually offers you more benefits than going vegetarian would. The key is consuming it in moderation, and also taking care of your health by exercising and eating a balanced diet.

Author: Nirdesh Singh

About the Author

- Outside contributors to the Dispatch are always welcome to offer their unique voices, contradictory opinions or presentation of information not included on the site.

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