Somewhere along the line “red meat” became the Red Scare of the food world.
The World Health Organization published a study claiming red meat and processed meats were carcinogenic – and although the study didn’t say it, headlines sure started comparing red meat to smoking.
Eat Red meat and get cancer. That sounds pretty darn dangerous and gives reason for us to boycott the cattle farmers altogether.
But the thing is – according to plenty more researchers than just my opinion, there are a lot of flaws in the public interpretations of this and many other studies. And those design flaws make it nearly impossible to make an accurate conclusion that red meat causes cancer.
Let me explain.
Let’s look at the WHO study – it’s the big one that everyone knows. In that study, the WHO labeled red meat as “probably carcinogenic.”
So really, they have no idea. But what they did find was LIMITED evidence that there was a positive association between red meat and carcinogenic agents, but other explanations for that increase could not be ruled out.
So in reality, the carcinogenic increase went from 0 to .2 but they don’t actually know why.
So does red mean cause cancer? We don’t know.
Because there are hundreds of other factors that could change your body’s cancer risk:
- The vitamins and minerals you eat
- How much sun exposure you get
- Your sleep quality
- Your hydration
- How often you take medications
- Do you visit your doctor enough
- And even the way you cook your meat can change the carcinogenic agents!
Because it’s nearly impossible to control for all of these variables, it’s pretty darn hard to say that red meat causes cancer.
Now let’s be clear – red meat and processed meats are NOT the same thing.
The grass-fed ribeye on your grill is not the same as the hot dog in your microwave.
Most processed meats DO have scientifically demonstrated carcinogenic risks. And that’s because in order to process those meat by-products, they stuff them full of chemicals, nitrates, preservatives and other non-natural food substances.
But here is what we do know.
Red meat CAN be a healthy part of any diet. Is it the only meat you should eat? No.
But it’s the same with any food.
If you only eat broccoli, you will miss out on dozens of other nutrients that broccoli can’t provide.
If you only eat nuts for your fats, you’ll miss out on the valuable minerals in plant oils, fish, and avocados.
We NEED a variety in our diets in order to consume all of the vitamins and minerals our body requires. And because red meat provides tons of nutrients that you can’t get from other protein sources, it definitely has a place in your weekly rotation.
Nutrients in Red Meat
Red meat is a rich source of vitamin B12, which is vital to proper functioning of nearly every system in your body. B12 deficiency can play a role in everything from aging, neurological disorders, and mental illness, to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and infertility.
Red meat also contains significant levels of other B vitamins including: thiamin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, folate, niacin, and vitamin B6.
For people who don’t eat a lot of oily fish or receive a lot of direct sun exposure, red meat can be a big source of vitamin D. Red meat also contains a vitamin D metabolite called 25-hydroxycholecalciferol, which is assimilated much more quickly and easily than other dietary forms of vitamin D. In populations with low sun exposure, meat has been shown to be protective against rickets, a degenerative bone disease caused by severe vitamin D deficiency.
Interestingly, drinking milk with the same levels of vitamin D does not provide this same protection. That means vitamin D from the meat has a unique property making it more absorbable in humans.
Red meat contains primarily heme iron, a form that is absorbed and utilized much more efficiently than the non-heme iron found in plant foods. That means iron from meat is easier for your body to use than other sources of iron.
Red meat is an especially important source of zinc, because the other rich sources — organ meats and shellfish — are much less commonly consumed in our country. As with vitamin D and iron, the zinc present in red meat is highly bioavailable, and even a small amount of red meat in the diet can increase zinc utilization from all sources.
Zinc is an essential mineral that is an imperative part of many physiological functions, including structure in certain proteins and enzymes, and regulation of gene expression, and those eating meat-free diets are at greater risk of zinc deficiency.
Finally, to round out this impressive nutrient profile, red meat contains significant levels of other vital minerals such as magnesium, copper, cobalt, phosphorus, chromium, nickel, and selenium.
So how do you choose a good quality red meat?
Always choose grass-fed options.
Grass-fed cattle are fed only grass and forage for their entire lives. The alternative option is grain-fed, in which are cows fattened up using cheap fillers like corn, soy, and even gummy bears. They are kept in small spaces and option given antibiotics and growth hormones to increase the growth speed.
You are what your food eats. The more nutritious your red meat eats, the more vitamins and minerals that cow will provide you.
- Grass-fed beef has been shown to give you more antioxidants including Vitamin A and E.
- 5x more anti-inflammatory, heart healthy Omega 3s
- 2x the CLA’s (conjugated linoleic acid) which can help with muscle growth
- And a far less saturated fat, cholesterol and calories.
Choose grass-fed. Local. Whole meat options instead of processed. And organic. And don’t feel guilty for eating that ribeye!
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