By SRK Editor
| Last updated January 30, 2019
A question and topic we have seen debated often: is red meat healthy or unhealthy for you? It is undoubtedly one of the most controversial foods in nutrition, which can surprise some given that humans have been eating it throughout evolution.
Setting aside ethical and environmental issues, below is an objective look at the health effects of red meat:
Today’s Meat Isn’t The Same Meat As That Of Centuries Ago
True, humans have been eating meat for thousands of years and our digestive systems are well equipped to handle it.
The meat consumed today is, however, different than the meat people are in the past. Back in the day, animals that were then used for meat consumption roamed free and are grass, insects and other foods natural to them.
If you compare a cow grazing free, chewing on grass and various other edible plants, to one today you can immediately imagine the difference. Today, some meat products are highly processed after the animals have been slaughtered. They are smoked, cured, then treated with nitrates, preservatives and various chemicals.
Simply put, not all meats are created equal. It is very important to distinguish between different types of meat:
Processed meat: These products are usually from conventionally raised cows, then go through various processing methods. Examples include sausages and bacon.
Conventional red meat: Conventional red meats are fairly unprocessed, but the cows are usually factory farmed. Meats that are red when raw are defined as red meats. This includes lamb, beef, pork and some others.
White meat: Meats that are white when cooked are defined as white meats. This includes meat from poultry like chicken and turkey.
Grass-fed, organic meat: This meat comes from animals that have been naturally fed and raised organically, without drugs and hormones. They also don’t have any artificial chemicals added.
Red Meat Is Nutritious Indeed
Factually, red meat is one of the most nutritious foods that humans can eatIt is loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and various other nutrients that can have profound effects on health.
- Vitamin B3 (niacin), 25% of the RDA Vitamin
- B12 (cobalamin), 37% of the RDA (this vitamin is unattainable from plant foods)
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) 18% of the RDA
- Iron: 12% of the RDA, Zinc: 32% of the RDA
Selenium: 24% of the RDA
- Plenty of other vitamins and minerals in smaller amounts
The Negative Effects of Red Meat: Your Heart, Diabetes and Death
Yes, this subtitle may seem alarming but our article is aiming to be both objective and transparent.
The results and effects of meat consumption have been studied in depth, and some of these observational studies (studies designed to detect associations but cannot prove causation) show that red meat is associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and death.
As a Health Line article perfectly explained:
“A massive review of 20 studies including 1,218,380 individuals found that processed meat was associated with an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes. However, no association was found for unprocessed red meat (Source).
In the EPIC study, a very large observational study including 448,568 people, processed meat increased the risk of death, while no effect was seen for unprocessed red meat. (Source).”
If we are examining increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and death, it’s vital to distinguish between processed and unprocessed meat, as the two can have vastly different effects. The observational studies seem to agree that processed meat (not unprocessed red meat) is associated with an increased risk of an early death and many diseases. The difference is thus crucial and must be underscored.
With all this said, it’s important to keep in mind that these studies have limitations. It’s impossible to draw strong conclusions from observational studies and just like with most things in life, moderation is always key!
Red Meat and Cancer: Is There A Link?
Yes, there are many observational studies that show that red meat is linked to cancer.
As Health Line continues to explain:
“A recurrent problem in these studies is that they seem to pool together processed meat and unprocessed red meat. Meta-analyses in which researchers analyze data from many studies show that the increased risk of colorectal cancer is very low. One meta-analysis found a weak effect for men, but no effect for women.
Correlation versus Causation
When you look closely, practically all studies that allegedly prove that red meat causes harm are observational studies. These types of studies can only demonstrate correlation, or that two variables are associated.
They can tell us that individuals who eat a lot of red meat are more likely to get sick, but they cannot prove that red meat is the cause.
One of the main problems with such studies is that they are plagued by various confounding factors. For example, people who eat red meat are less health-conscious and more likely to smoke, drink excessively, eat more sugar, exercise less, etc.
As Health Line explains:
“Observational studies cannot be used to determine cause and effect. There are many confounders in such studies, and higher-quality studies sometimes end up showing the exact opposite effect.”
What’s important to distinguish, then, is the difference between correlation and causation!
In today’s social media age we are often faced with a ton of alarming online articles, but when you look past the scare tactics and sensationalist headlines, you realize that there is no strong evidence linking red meat to disease in humans.
There are only observational studies, which often don’t distinguish between red meat and processed meat
What matters is choosing unprocessed and preferably grass-fed red meats, making sure to use gentler cooking methods and avoiding burnt/charred pieces. When it is all said and done, consuming properly cooked red meat in moderation is likely very healthy for you!
At Square Roots Kitchen we offer a variety of protein ingredients, which includes steak. Our red meat is unprocessed and grass-fed, sourced locally and with the upmost care. We cook it gently and provide it as an available ingredient in all our wraps, salads and bowls.
You can add steak to your customized meal, or choose a wide variety of pre-made healthy salads, wraps and bowls, making Square Roots Kitchen the ideal destination for fast, casual dining near you, as well as a great option for restaurant catering in Chicago.