I’m not one of those who believes red meat is evil. There are many benefits to the meat. It is high in iron and fortunately, the heme iron in red meat is easily absorbed by the body. Red meat also supplies vitamin B12, which helps make DNA and keeps nerve and red blood cells healthy, and zinc, which keeps the immune system working properly. Additionally, red meat provides protein, which helps build bones and muscles.
However, as many are aware, there are some dangers associated with eating too much red meat, particularly processed red meats such as bacon, sausage or processed deli meats. In a new study, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) have found that eating processed meat was associated with a 42% higher risk of heart disease and a 19% higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
Because some red meats are high in saturated fat, which raises blood cholesterol, which in turn leads to higher levels of LDL cholesterol, they increase the risk of heart disease. With respect to cancer, there is a belief among some researchers that red meat does increase the risk for cancer, particularly colorectal cancer.
A recent National Institutes of Health-AARP study of more than a half-million older Americans concluded that people who ate the most red meat and processed meat over a 10-year-period were likely to die sooner than those who ate smaller amounts. Those who ate about four ounces of red meat a day were more likely to die of cancer or heart disease than those who ate the least, about a half-ounce a day. Epidemiologists classified the increased risk as “modest” in the study.
After a systemic review of scientific studies, an expert panel of the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research concluded in 2007 that “red or processed meats are convincing or probable sources of some cancers.” Their report says evidence is convincing for a link between red meat, processed meat, and colorectal cancer, and limited but suggestive for links to lung, esophageal, stomach, pancreatic, and endometrial cancers.
While I briefly thought about giving up red meat, I have decided instead to reduce my consumption – no more than two servings a week – greatly reduce my consumption of processed red meats (bye bye bacon), and to limit that consumption to lean cuts of red meat. Generally, the leanest cuts of red meat are those which contain ‘loin’ in the name. Examples include: top sirloin, sirloin tip steak, pork tenderloin, and lamb loin chops.
Less of the red meat and more of the green, orange, purple, red and yellow fruits and vegetables.
So what are some other sources of needed protein? Chicken, eggs, tofu, cottage cheese, pumpkin seeds, salmon and almonds to name a few. How about iron? Soy beans, clams, spinach, mussels, ginger, lentils and oysters do the trick.
As with most things, I believe the key is thoughtful moderation and attention to detail. Eat well and stay healthy!