Is Red Meat Healthy? | The Paleo Diet®
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Is it Okay to Eat Red Meat? The Debate Rages On

By Casey Thaler, B.A., NASM-CPT, FNS
October 11, 2020
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In the world of nutrition, there are few things as controversial as the topic of red meat.[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] Some experts claim red meat will likely lead to your untimely death, while others say it is the answer to good health. The world of nutrition has never been as divided as it currently is, with proponents of vegan diets, vegetarian diets, Paleo Diets, keto diets, and others landing on both sides of the debate. Since the world of nutrition research is also notoriously murky, the answers must be deduced from looking at all the available data and drawing your own conclusions.

Any recommendation in the nutrition world, whether for or against the consumption of something, will almost always have some implicit bias. With that said, there are many famous proponents of red meat.[11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] These voices suggest that, not only is red meat packed with protein, iron, and vitamin B12, but that it was a necessary addition in our evolutionary diet. Of course, it is important to note that these proponents recommend only grass-fed, high-quality red meat—there is a preponderance of evidence that processed red meats almost always lead to poor health outcomes.[21] [22] [23] [24] [25] [26] [27] [28] [29] [30]

On the flip side, many other experts claim that red meat is terrible for your health and will likely kill you. Almost without fail, these same experts recommend consuming a plant-based diet, or at least utilizing a related dietary approach. It should be noted that these figures almost always refer to processed red meat when they reference damaging studies.

Therein lies an important but often overlooked distinction. No one would argue, for example, that salted kale chips covered in melted cheese has the same health benefits as raw kale. However, for some reason, when this logic is applied to red meat—comparing high-quality red meat with its “junk-food” equivalent processed variety—we miss the distinction. Or at least these pundits do. Processed red meats include the types of low-quality meats found in fast food chains, as well as those in hot dogs, sausages, and in many supermarkets. (These are often marked simply as grain-fed beef, or not marked at all.)

Furthermore, those who insist red meat is bad for your health often will reference large-scale studies. Unfortunately, in these studies, on top of including lower quality meats, researchers frequently fail to control for confounding factors like smoking, exercise, and alcohol consumption.

When it comes to the truth about red meat, who can we actually trust? There is bias on both sides, but the key is to look for researchers (and studies) that are objective. This means ruling out any confounding variables, making sure that both the type of red meat is clearly identified in their write-ups, and that they also have no conflicts of interest. This can often be financial, but it also covers many other areas of influence. Once this is sorted, you can start to dig into the data, and begin to find the truth.

When you look strictly at higher quality science, red meat doesn’t appear nearly as unhealthy as the media often hypes. However, there are a few caveats. First, processed meat—of any kind—is not ideal.[31] So, we are strictly referring to grass-fed meat that has been properly raised.

Second, researchers have yet to discover what exactly would make red meat “bad” for our health. There are certain factors that have been identified as having a possible role, including two molecules called Neu5Gc and TMAO. However, in both cases the science is unclear. Of course, this doesn’t mean that future research couldn’t identify a mechanism. It’s noteworthy that Mat Lalonde, a Ph.D. at Harvard University, intensively studied a potential mechanism for red meat’s involvement in poor health—and he couldn’t find one.[32]

Lastly, it is important to eat a balanced diet, one that includes red meat as well as chicken, fish, and other healthy sources of protein.[33] [34] [35]

In conclusion, like most answers in the nutrition world, the truth is a little bit complicated. However, it is always important to consider the bias—whether from funding or otherwise—on either side of the equation, and to consider why one side (or the other) would try to convince you that their philosophy was “right”. Here at The Paleo Diet®, we recommend a no-nonsense approach, where only the most nutrient-dense foods are consumed to optimize your health.[36] [37] [38] [39] [40]

References

[1] Controversial studies say it’s OK to eat red meat. (2019, September 30). WebMD. [2] Wolk" class="redactor-autoparser-object">https://www.webmd.com/diet/new... A. Potential health hazards of eating red meat. J Intern Med. 2017;281(2):106-122.

[3] Guasch-ferré M, Satija A, Blondin SA, et al. Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials of Red Meat Consumption in Comparison With Various Comparison Diets on Cardiovascular Risk Factors. Circulation. 2019;139(15):1828-1845.

[4] Van den brandt PA. Red meat, processed meat, and other dietary protein sources and risk of overall and cause-specific mortality in The Netherlands Cohort Study. Eur J Epidemiol. 2019;34(4):351-369.

[5] Wyness L. The role of red meat in the diet: nutrition and health benefits. Proc Nutr Soc. 2016;75(3):227-32.

[6] Battaglia richi E, Baumer B, Conrad B, Darioli R, Schmid A, Keller U. Health Risks Associated with Meat Consumption: A Review of Epidemiological Studies. Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2015;85(1-2):70-8.

[7] Binnie MA, Barlow K, Johnson V, Harrison C. Red meats: time for a paradigm shift in dietary advice. Meat Sci. 2014;98(3):445-51.

[8] Aykan NF. Red Meat and Colorectal Cancer. Oncol Rev. 2015;9(1):288.

[9] Saliba W, Rennert HS, Gronich N, Gruber SB, Rennert G. Red meat and processed meat intake and risk of colorectal cancer: a population-based case-control study. Eur J Cancer Prev. 2019;28(4):287-293.

[10] Mcafee AJ, Mcsorley EM, Cuskelly GJ, et al. Red meat consumption: an overview of the risks and benefits. Meat Sci. 2010;84(1):1-13.

[11] Eat less red meat, scientists said. Now some believe that was bad advice. (2019, September 30). The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. [12] Nutrition" class="redactor-autoparser-object">https://www.nytimes.com/2019/0... Diva Monica Reinagel. (2020, January 29). Is red meat killing us or making us stronger? Scientific American. [13] Busting" class="redactor-autoparser-object">https://www.scientificamerican... myths about red meat. (2020, January 13). Tufts Now. [14] There's" class="redactor-autoparser-object">https://now.tufts.edu/articles... no need to cut back on red meat, group claims. Angry doctors say that's false. (2019, September 30). NBC News. [15] Let" class="redactor-autoparser-object">https://www.nbcnews.com/health... them eat steak: Hold the shame, red meat is not bad for you or climate change. (2019, November 2). USA TODAY. https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2019/11/02/red-meat-flawed-health-climate-claims-new-research-column/4112887002/

[16] Kresser, C. (2020, August 13). Red meat: It does a body good! Chris Kresser. [17] Siri-tarino" class="redactor-autoparser-object">https://chriskresser.com/red-m... PW, Sun Q, Hu FB, Krauss RM. Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;91(3):535-46.

[18] Alexander DD, Weed DL, Cushing CA, Lowe KA. Meta-analysis of prospective studies of red meat consumption and colorectal cancer. Eur J Cancer Prev. 2011;20(4):293-307.

[19] Alisson-silva F, Kawanishi K, Varki A. Human risk of diseases associated with red meat intake: Analysis of current theories and proposed role for metabolic incorporation of a non-human sialic acid. Mol Aspects Med. 2016;51:16-30.

[20] Bronzato S, Durante A. A Contemporary Review of the Relationship between Red Meat Consumption and Cardiovascular Risk. Int J Prev Med. 2017;8:40.

[21] Rohrmann S, Linseisen J. Processed meat: the real villain?. Proc Nutr Soc. 2016;75(3):233-41.

[22] Turesky RJ. Mechanistic Evidence for Red Meat and Processed Meat Intake and Cancer Risk: A Follow-up on the International Agency for Research on Cancer Evaluation of 2015. Chimia (Aarau). 2018;72(10):718-724.

[23] Van den brandt PA. Red meat, processed meat, and other dietary protein sources and risk of overall and cause-specific mortality in The Netherlands Cohort Study. Eur J Epidemiol. 2019;34(4):351-369.

[24] Alshahrani SM, Fraser GE, Sabaté J, et al. Red and Processed Meat and Mortality in a Low Meat Intake Population. Nutrients. 2019;11(3)

[25] Santarelli RL, Pierre F, Corpet DE. Processed meat and colorectal cancer: a review of epidemiologic and experimental evidence. Nutr Cancer. 2008;60(2):131-44.

[26] Micha R, Michas G, Mozaffarian D. Unprocessed red and processed meats and risk of coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes--an updated review of the evidence. Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2012;14(6):515-24.

[27] Micha R, Michas G, Mozaffarian D. Unprocessed red and processed meats and risk of coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes--an updated review of the evidence. Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2012;14(6):515-24.

[28] Wolk A. Potential health hazards of eating red meat. J Intern Med. 2017;281(2):106-122.

[29] Battaglia richi E, Baumer B, Conrad B, Darioli R, Schmid A, Keller U. Health Risks Associated with Meat Consumption: A Review of Epidemiological Studies. Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2015;85(1-2):70-8.

[30] Sych J, Kaelin I, Gerlach F, et al. Intake of Processed Meat and Association with Sociodemographic and Lifestyle Factors in a Representative Sample of the Swiss Population. Nutrients. 2019;11(11)

[31] Cascella M, Bimonte S, Barbieri A, et al. Dissecting the mechanisms and molecules underlying the potential carcinogenicity of red and processed meat in colorectal cancer (CRC): an overview on the current state of knowledge. Infect Agents Cancer. 2018;13:3.

[32] Red meat and mortality. (2013, December 6). Sustainability at Harvard. [33] Lonnie" class="redactor-autoparser-object">https://green.harvard.edu/news... M, Hooker E, Brunstrom JM, et al. Protein for Life: Review of Optimal Protein Intake, Sustainable Dietary Sources and the Effect on Appetite in Ageing Adults. Nutrients. 2018;10(3)

[34] Santarpia L, Contaldo F, Pasanisi F. Dietary protein content for an optimal diet: a clinical view. J Cachexia Sarcopenia Muscle. 2017;8(3):345-348.

[35] Burd NA, Mckenna CF, Salvador AF, Paulussen KJM, Moore DR. Dietary Protein Quantity, Quality, and Exercise Are Key to Healthy Living: A Muscle-Centric Perspective Across the Lifespan. Front Nutr. 2019;6:83.

[36] Ward ZJ, Bleich SN, Cradock AL, et al. Projected U.S. State-Level Prevalence of Adult Obesity and Severe Obesity. N Engl J Med. 2019;381(25):2440-2450.

[37] Sturm R, Hattori A. Morbid obesity rates continue to rise rapidly in the United States. Int J Obes (Lond). 2013;37(6):889-91.

[38] Agha M, Agha R. The rising prevalence of obesity: part A: impact on public health. Int J Surg Oncol (N Y). 2017;2(7):e17.

[39] Hruby A, Hu FB. The Epidemiology of Obesity: A Big Picture. Pharmacoeconomics. 2015;33(7):673-89.

[40] Hurt RT, Kulisek C, Buchanan LA, Mcclave SA. The obesity epidemic: challenges, health initiatives, and implications for gastroenterologists. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2010;6(12):780-92.


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