For the last twenty years or so, red meat has been demonized for everything from heart disease to obesity to cancer. The media loves red meat. Red meat is usually in headlines on gout, colon cancer or any other detrimental illness. Unfortunately, it’s all just cheap, unscientific muckraking crap. There is really no evidence that red meat has any negative health effects. In fact, an impartial review of the evidence shows that red meat is one of the healthiest foods out there.
Just a quick note on all the red meat studies out there is that they’re observational at best. There are a ton of variables that are over looked by the researchers When it comes to studying food that is already assumed unhealthy, the one common variable is the “healthy user bias”.
Since red meat has been scrutinized for years in the mainstream, people who eat less of it are actually trying to get healthy. This means they’re also more likely to less of other foods that are actually unhealthy (i.e. refined sugar, trans-fats, processed foods, etc.) and engage in healthier lifestyle choices (i.e. they are physically active, don’t smoke, etc.).
It’s really hard to take any of the mainstream science seriously when such elementary mistakes and bias agendas are exposed through careful research and real science.
So What About Saturated Fat
Another unfortunately popular rodeo the media runs is the saturated fat rodeo. There is absolutely no consistent evidence demonstrating that the saturated fat found in red meat significantly raises blood cholesterol levels. Even larger studies with almost 350,000 participants found no association between saturated fat intake and coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease (3).
In fact, one large study with almost 60,000 Japanese women found an inverse association between saturated fat consumption and stroke: the more saturated fat participants ate, the lower their rate of stroke. (4) As most of you probably know, there’s much more to the cholesterol story than just “LDL = bad,” so rest assured that eating red meat isn’t going to take you to an early grave.
Vitamins and Minerals
Now that I’ve cleared up some of the crappy science about red meat, I’m going to go over some great reasons as to why you should include and even increase red meat in your diet.
Red meat is slam packed with vitamin B12, which is vital for the proper functioning of nearly every system in your body. B12 deficiency can play a role in everything from aging, neurological disorders, and mental illness, to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and infertility.
Red meat also contains impressive levels of other B vitamins, including thiamin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, folate, niacin, and vitamin B6. It’s very important to get these vitamins from whole foods sources and not pills or other multivitamins. Red meat is one of the easiest ways to ensure adequate intake.
For people who don’t eat a lot of oily fish or receive a lot of direct sun exposure, red meat can be a godsend to their overall vitamin D intake. (5) Red meat also contains a vitamin D metabolite called 25-hydroxycholecalciferol, which is assimilated much more quickly and easily than other dietary forms of vitamin D.
In populations with low sun exposure, meat has been shown to be protective against rickets, a degenerative bone disease caused by severe vitamin D deficiency. (6) What’s interesting is that consuming milk with the same levels of vitamin D does not provide this same protection, indicating that the vitamin D in meat is uniquely absorbable and useful to the human body.
Red meat contains mostly heme iron, a form that is absorbed and utilized much more efficiently than the non-heme iron found in plant foods. (7) Furthermore, even small amounts of meat can aid in the absorption of non-heme iron.
For people with iron overload conditions like hereditary hemochromatosis, it’s probably best to limit high-iron foods such as red meat, but for most us, especially those with iron-deficiency anemia, the iron from red meat is beneficial. This is also very important for women who are pregnant or looking to become pregnant. Iron is crucial for the growth and development of the fetal brain.
Red meat is an especially important source of zinc, because the other rich sources like organ meats and shellfish are not as commonly consumed. Just like vitamin D and iron, the zinc present in red meat is highly bioavailable, and even a small amount of red meat in the diet can increase zinc utilization from all sources. (8)
Zinc is an essential mineral that is an imperative part of many physiological functions, including structure in certain proteins and enzymes, and regulation of gene expression. Those eating meat-free diets are at greater risk of zinc deficiency. (9) Finally, to add emphasis to this impressive nutrient profile, red meat contains high levels of other vital minerals such as magnesium, copper, cobalt, phosphorus, chromium, nickel, and selenium.
Why Red Meat is Better than White Meat
Not all of these properties are unique to red meat, but apply to animal flesh in general. For example, B vitamins, vitamin D, and most of the other trace minerals I mentioned are just as high in white meat as in red. (10) The thing is, red meat does have way more b12, iron, and zinc than white meat, and those things alone are enough to set it apart. Where red meat really shines, though, is in the fatty acid department.
The fat of herbivores is just about equal parts of saturated and monounsaturated fat, with only a small amount of polyunsaturated fat. (11) The unique herbivore digestive system ensures that these proportions stay pretty constant, regardless of what the animal eats.
This makes red meat a better choice than pork or poultry for those that cannot find or afford grass fed meat, because you will still be getting mostly saturated and monounsaturated fats.
Hopefully many of you will enjoy your steaks without the guilt. I know I will! Please comment!