Does Red Meat Cause Heart Disease?
Does Red Meat Cause Heart Disease?
Is too much red meat actually bad for you and your healthy diet?
Chicken is your go-to. Fish can be too – i.e. when the lady friend is cooking salmon. Beef… not so sure? No matter how busy you’ve been planking or Tebowing, you still probably got the memo about red meat and its dicey rep. There was, of course, the 90’s mad cow epidemic that made beef the bad guy. Not to mention red meat’s more recent association with increased risk of a whole slew of health issues, particularly heart disease and cancer. Yeah, I know, you’re not so concerned with that stuff when you’re just trying to look good on the field (or while tailgating… not judging).
A steak dinner is more or less the manliest meal on the block, so I get that ditching it completely is not an option. But how much beef is too much beef, and why?
Let’s cut to the bone and start with the good for a change:
Red meat (from here on out, referring to beef) is innately pretty damn healthy when you break it down:
- It’s got a lot of protein. Essential for muscle growth and recovery.
- It’s super nutrient-dense. That red color comes from myoglobin and means beef is a great source of iron – the mineral responsible for bringing oxygen all over your body, basically allowing your cells to breathe. Pretty freaking important. And the type of iron you get from meat (heme) is much more easily absorbed than it is from plant sources (non-heme).
- It’s full of other vitamins and minerals including B12, zinc, phosphorous, potassium, magnesium and selenium.
So red meat rocks, right? Umm, not so fast, for that sirloin didn’t just fall out of the sky.
Calves on a commercial farm start at 80 pounds, and over 14 months, gain up to 1200lbs. Yeah… that’s about as natural as that gorilla in your gym using less-than-legal prohomone means to get jacked. But anyway, back to the cows. They’re given hormones to make them grow at ridiculous rates.
Then, while they’re growing into Beef Schwarzeneggers, they’re fed a steady diet of antibiotics to prevent disease outbreaks. Might not seem like a big deal until you realize antibiotic residue ends up in your beef, causing resistance in humans. Right, not so much a fan of that.
In addition to hormones and antibiotics, they’re force fed tons of grains, other leftover processed meat byproducts, and protein supplements (I kid you not).
So why should you care? Glad you asked, babes! Cows would eat grass if they had the choice. All this grain and lack of movement causes fat marbling, which changes both taste AND nutrition. Increased marbling might sound pretty, but it’s not. It means more fat – and not just any fat – but the artery-clogging, cholesterol raising, heart disease causing saturated kind. Which is why your order for a T-bone at your favorite steakhouse (which had better not be that one with steak and strippers… unreal) is essentially a plate of a heart attack with a side of hormones and antibiotics. Sick.
So what’s a protein lover like you to do?
- Always go for lean cuts like filets or sirloin
- Opt for grass fed/organic beef whenever you’ve the option. These cows have less saturated (bad) fat, more omega 3’s and other nutrients, and are free of hormones and antibiotics.
Look, it’s really f-ing expensive to always buy organic/grass-fed beef, and that’s assuming you’ve even got it available at your local grocery store. I feel ya. But in this scenario, quality is essential if you’re trying to reap all of the benefits and avoid the risks that come with the less healthy option.
Having looked at beef’s good and bad, we’ve now arrived at the $64,000 question: How often can you treat yourself to that beloved NY Strip (or petite sirloin)? Based on a big research study on colorectal cancer that I won’t bore you with, I would stick with 10 oz/week of red meat as a marker. Of course, if you’re a strictly red meat and potatoes kinda guy (or girl), the higher quality you buy, the more meat you can eat.ShareThis
About the Author
Carolyn is a Nutritionist/Registered Dietitian and has her masters in Clinical Nutrition from NYU. She went to Tulane in New Orleans for undergrad, spent 3 months traveling around the world on Semester at Sea and then swung through Boulder, CO before landing in her current home of NYC. Carolyn has a blog called One Smart Brownie (www.onesmartbrownie.com) to simplify healthy eating for those who don’t spend their lives studying nutrition. Her favorite hobbies include getting new stamps on her passport and telling yo mama jokes, and she says that if she were to have a crush on a food it would be chocolate biscotti, no questions asked.
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