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Is red meat healthy for you?

Red meat gives a good amount of protein and other nutrients. So, is eating red meat good or bad for you?
Raw red meat on a plate
Red meat offers health benefits. Image courtesy: Freepik
Natalia Ningthoujam Published: 2 Apr 2024, 02:30 pm IST
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Like fish, red meat is a food staple in many households. You may be consuming pork, beef or lamb in different styles every day. It is a delicious addition to your meals. However, over the years, red meat has been associated with many health problems, including diabetes. But people tend to forget that red meat is packed with nutrients that are needed by our body. Does that mean red meat is healthy for you? We tell you benefits and side effects of red meat.

What is red meat?

Red meat refers to the meat of mammals, which is red when raw and darkens as it cooks. This category includes pork, lamb, veal and goat. The colour difference compared to white meat, like chicken and turkey, is due to higher levels of myoglobin, a protein in muscle that binds oxygen and iron, giving the meat its red colour, shares dietician Manvi Lohia.

While you know which animal your meat came from, there are more things to know –

  • Processed meats, which are widely consumed, go through various processing methods. Products like sausages, salami, bacon and hot dogs are prepared by using methods like smoking, fermentation or curing.
  • Conventional meats are from animals that are usually raised in farms where they are fed grain-based foods.
  • Unprocessed meats are the ones that are not heavily processed. Ground beef comes under this category.
  • Grass-fed meat comes from cows that eat grass and forage for their own food.
  • Organic meat comes from animals that are fed with only organic foods.
    They are not given antibiotics or hormones, and go for grazing.
Raw red meant
Beef, pork and lamb come under red meat. Image courtesy: Freepik

What are the health benefits of red meat?

Even though the consumption of red meat has been subject to debate due to potential health risks, it has many health benefits.

1. Rich in protein

Red meat is an excellent source of protein, essential for muscle repair and growth, immune function, and overall body maintenance. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 100 grams of ground beef would give 17.2 grams of protein.

2. Rich in vitamins and minerals

Particularly abundant in B vitamins, red meat supports energy production and the creation of red blood cells. It is also a significant source of minerals like iron, zinc, and selenium. Iron from red meat is in the heme form, which is more easily absorbed by the body than non-heme iron from plant sources.

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3. Boosts immunity

The zinc found in red meat is crucial for maintaining a healthy immune system. This aids in wound healing, and supporting normal growth, says Lohia.

4. Improves muscle mass

Due to its high protein content and essential amino acids, red meat is beneficial for muscle building and maintenance, especially important for older adults to prevent muscle wasting.

5. Supports mental health

B vitamins, particularly B12, are vital for neurological function and the production of neurotransmitters. Red meat consumption can help prevent B12 deficiency, which is linked to depression and cognitive decline, says the expert.

6. Energy production

The iron, zinc, and B vitamins in red meat play essential roles in energy metabolism. They ensure that the body can efficiently convert food into usable energy.

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What are the side effects of consuming red meat?

Eating too much of red meat, particularly the processed one, is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer and type 2 diabetes, as per a 2015 study published in the International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research. Here are some of the health risks:

1. Increased risk of heart disease

High consumption of red meat, especially processed red meat, is associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Red meat consumption may lead to higher levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, which are risk factors for cardiovascular diseases. Also, diets high in saturated fats, which are prevalent in red meats, can lead to increased cholesterol levels, contributing to the risk of heart disease.

2. Risk of type 2 diabetes

High consumption of red meat, particularly processed meats, may lead to type 2 diabetes. So, replace red meat with healthier protein sources to lower this risk.

3. Contribution to weight gain

While red meat itself is not solely responsible for weight gain, its high calorie and fat content can contribute to excess caloric intake if consumed in large quantities, says Lohia. If you eat a lot of red meat, it may lead to an increase in total body fat.

If you eat more than 90 grams of red or processed meat in a day, cut down to 70 grams. According to the UK’s National Health Services, 90 grams is equivalent to approximately 3 thinly cut slices of beef, pork or lamb.

Minced red meat
Too much of red meat can cause weight gain. Image courtesy: Freepik

What is the healthy way of cooking red meat?

The healthy ways to cook red meat are grilling, roasting, and slow cooking, says Lohia. These methods allow fat to drip away from the meat and reduce the need for additional oils, lowering the fat content of the final dish. Moreover, cooking at lower temperatures or for shorter times can minimise the formation of harmful compounds like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and advanced glycation end products, which are linked to health risks.

Red meat can be a valuable part of a balanced diet when consumed in moderation and cooked in a healthy way.

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About the Author

Natalia Ningthoujam has written on various subjects - from music to films and fashion to lifestyle - as a journalist in her career that started in 2010. After getting stories from the crime scene, police headquarters, and conducting interviews with celebrities, she is now writing on health and wellness which has become her focus area. ...Read More

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