I’ve been an omnivore my entire life. From a mother who, like me, was born in the South, there was never a shortage of pork products, chicken or beef. From my father, a Dutch immigrant, there was still the inclusion of pork, as well as a fondness for seafood and some organ meats (namely liver).
Much like we see with eggs, the general public continues to see sensationalized, fear-mongering headlines demonizing red meat year after year (because it sells and invites clicks) and the truth is rarely what you see.
It’s important to note that when a headline links a correlation to health and tries to pin the blame on red meat consumption, there are other factors at play. A study published in 2012 found that individuals who consume red meat frequently have a high BMI, they are found to lead sedentary lifestyles, may or may not be smokers and consume more than their maintenance calories on a regular basis. In addition, they are found to eat fewer whole grains, fruits and vegetables. When considering all of these variables, it’s difficult to blame red meat for mortality rates.
So, what is a reasonable amount of red meat to consume?
This study, published in 2016, was able to link to a 0.5 serving of red meat per day with no adverse cardiovascular effects. Consider that a serving of steak could be 4-8 ounces depending on the individual, which means that 2-4 ounces daily of consumption has no negative health conclusions.
Of course, we know that our diets don’t exist in vacuums. Rarely will we see an individual eat only a 0.5 serving of red meat and nothing else so that we can watch the effects it has on the body.
Which red meats should you be concerned with?
As with most anything in our diets, a term that gets used (and abused) is moderation. If you enjoy red meats (beef, lamb and pork), eat them somewhat sparingly and in conjunction with whole, minimally processed foods (whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables).
The problem areas tend to be the processed red meats eaten in abundance such as bacon, hot dogs, chorizo, pepperoni, salami, ham, etc. Does that mean never? No, it means less frequently.
Opt for leaner cuts of red meat, as well as skinless chicken, turkey, seafood (although not all seafood is lean) and plant proteins to give yourself not only a variety of protein choices but a variety of micronutrients.
Further, if you do want to continue the consumption of red meats and have any of the other factors as noted from my first referenced study, do what you can to reduce/eliminate smoking and alcohol, eat in a sustainable deficit to reduce overall BMI and do what you can to change the sedentary aspect of your life: strength train and get in a cardiovascular activity that works well for your lifestyle.
Remember that news outlets, social media and most food documentaries operate on concepts and attitudes that get our attention and do not always align with accurate, honest information.
Of course, with all due respect to any vegans reading this, you’ve likely found a style of eating that works well for you which is truly the biggest battle most will face when embarking on a healthier body. The purpose of this article is not to sway someone from that side of the fence to this one, rather to present options to those (like myself) who want to continue to keep red meat in their diets.
Assuming calories are controlled and a varied, whole food, minimally processed diet is in place, most foods should fit within reason into your diet (assuming there are no particular food intolerances to be mindful of).
If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to eat some ribs…
(With kind regards to my 2020-21 class of Mac Nutrition colleagues).