Whether or not red meat can be included as part of a healthy diet is one of the most hotly debated topics in the nutrition field.
The definition of ‘red meat‘ varies with changes in time, place and culture. In culinary terminology, red meat is synonymous with meat which is red in color when uncooked. Nutritional terminology on the other hand, defines it as meat that is obtained from mammals. Red meat includes all kinds of beef and pork, bacon, cold cuts, hot dogs, sausage, liver and meats in pizza and stew. White meat includes chicken, turkey, fish and poultry cold cuts, tuna and chicken dogs.
To be precise, USDA classifies all meats obtained from ‘livestock‘ as red meats due to presence of more myoglobin content as compared to chicken or fish. Myoglobin concentration is the main factor in determining the colour of meat. The myoglobin contents in various types of meat are: white meat of chicken- under 0.05%; chicken thigh- 0.18 to 0.20%; pork and veal- 0.1 to 0.3%; young beef- 0.4 to 1.0% and old beef- 1.5 to 2.0%.
You probably all know that red meat is a very rich iron source. It also contains proteins, minerals zinc and phosphorus, vitamins like niacin, vitamin B12, thiamine and riboflavin. It also has high levels of Alpha Lipoic Acid – a powerful antioxidant.
However, the regular consumption of red meat is known to pose serious health issues. This is attributed to the large amount of saturated fat in red meat.
Moreover, a recent study in Europe has shown a significant link between high consumption of red meat and an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Other health risks associated with red meat consumption are bone loss, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and arthritis. Some cultures even look upon eating red meat as a masculine activity.
A team of researchers tracked half a million Americans over a decade and found those who ate more red and processed meats appear to have a “modestly increased” risk of dying from all causes, and specifically from cancer or heart disease. In contrast, those who ate more white meat have a decreased risk of dying, and in particular of dying from cancer. The study, led by researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Rockville, Maryland, followed about 545,000 men and women between the ages of 50 and 71. Between 1995 and 2005, 47,976 men and 23,276 women participating in the study died. Women who consumed the most red meat – 66 grams (2.3 ounces) per 1000 calories – were roughly 36% more likely to die than women who ate the least red meat – 9.1 grams (0.3 ounces). For men, a similar difference in red meat consumption, upped death rates by 31%.
To put it the other way around, the researchers say that 11% of deaths in men and 16% of deaths in women could be prevented if people who eat a lot of red meat cut their consumption.
“This is probably the biggest and most carefully done study on the relationship between diet and mortality that I’ve seen,” says Barry Popkin, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, who was not involved in the study.
Therefore, to prevent cancer and heart disease, it is recommended people limit the intake of saturated fats and shift to a leaner diet, Dr. Popkin says. “Excessive consumption [of meat] is found only in the West and is generally far below norms in the low- and middle-income world,” he concludes. Cutting back on steak, sausages and salami could help prolong your life, according to the most comprehensive study done on meat and mortality.
But, if all the up mentioned information didn’t convince you to slow down on your red meat consumption, you should also know that your bad culinary habits endanger the future of your planet. Reducing your consumption of meat would also combat the rising global demand for animal foods, which has caused food prices to rise, according to the editorial. Raising livestock uses up valuable resources and increases greenhouse gas emissions. Two to five times the amount of water is needed to raise livestock, compared with that needed to grow legumes and grains.