Red Meat, Good or Bad?

A recent study that caused all the hype was published by the Annals of Internal Medicine. A group of international researchers conducted five systematic reviews that examined the link between red and processed meat and various health issues, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. 

Their conclusion? According to the researchers, the existing evidence that shows red and processed meat is harmful is “low.” Their advice was not to change your regular red meat-eating habits—at least for now. 

Many people took this as permission to eat as many cheeseburgers and steaks without the guilt. No surprise, there was quite a backlash. Many doctors and nutritionists felt that these guidelines were based on a flawed interruption of the research. Still, the reaction has reignited the debate about whether red meat is good or bad.    

My take? I think you need to step back and look at the larger picture of how red and processed meat fits in your diet.

First off, what exactly is red and processed meat? Red meat includes all beef (burgers and steak), and processed red meat is found in food products like luncheon meats, hot dogs, sausages, and canned meat. (The Annals study did not define specific processed red meat, but these are the ones most people eat.) 

Contrary to what that study suggested, there is substantial evidence that a high intake of meat is associated with a higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, and yes, even certain cancers. 

But the keyword is “high.” There is where much of the confusion occurs. How much is too much? It is not clear.

As a person who enjoys the occasional hamburger or steak, I never want to say that you should NEVER eat red meat. It is all about moderation. Eating a burger now and then won’t hurt you. Eating burgers every day might. 

The Annals study didn’t explore specific quantities; however, a good rule of thumb is to stick to no more than two to three servings of red and processed meat per week. 

What about so-called “healthy” red meat, like grass-fed and organic? Most contain little, if any, growth hormones, antibiotics, or other additives compared with grain-fed beef. They also are more nutritionally dense with higher levels of vitamin E and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), an antioxidant that may fight against cancer. 

Yet, there is little evidence so far that eating these types of red meat is directly related to lower rates of cancer or heart disease. 

These types of red meat are more expensive, but if you can afford them, then they could be suitable options. 

My advice is to take a less-is-more approach with red meat. For instance, when eating out, especially at a steakhouse, think of red meat as a side dish rather than the main course. Choose extra vegetables, opt for olive oil over butter, and have your red meat cooked with herbs or spices like basil or rosemary, which have anti-cancer benefits. 

In terms of processed meat, you should probably avoid them as much as possible. Not only are they high in fat, but many contain high amounts of chemicals and additives. 

Your diet can play the most prominent role in your health and help prevent and manage your prostate cancer. But it doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s possible to enjoy some red and processed meat and still follow a healthy diet. 


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