Red Meat Is Health Food

Many health authorities denigrate meat, especially red meat, saying that it will clog arteries, cause cancer, and ruin the planet. In reality, red meat is health food, both for what it contains and what it does not contain, for what it does to the body and for what it doesn’t.

Humans have been eating meat for millions of years, from the time in fact before they were really human. The notion that this ancient and preferred food of humans now causes heart disease, diabetes and cancer, doesn’t pass the smell test.

Does red meat cause disease?

You have to have been living in a cave for the past several decades not to have heard that red meat is bad for health. What’s the reality?

A recent meta-analysis (study of studies) looked at 20 different studies on the relation between red meat and coronary heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. The review concluded that red meat consumption was not associated with any of these diseases.

Another recent study, EPIC, looked at almost 500,000 people and found no relation between red meat consumption and all-cause mortality.

What about cancer? A recent analysis found that the “available epidemiologic data are not sufficient to support an independent and unequivocal positive association between red meat intake and CRC [colorectal cancer, the cancer most often claimed to be meat-caused].”

If red meat doesn’t cause disease, where does the idea that it’s deadly come from?

Some of these studies have found that processed meat is associated with increased health risks, so that’s part of the answer. Even if true (which I doubt), that does not mean that red meat such as steaks or hamburgers causes disease.

In any case, who’s been eating lots of meat over the past several decades in the face of advice to cut back? That’s right, people who ignore all health advice. They’re more likely to smoke, be obese, and to consume soda pop and French fries with their meat. These associations were wrongly blamed on meat consumption.

Americans used to eat far more meat than now, but heart disease was all but non-existent. There was also no obesity or diabetes epidemic.

Saturated fat

Red meat contains saturated fat, which is the main reason health authorities want us to limit our consumption of it. The reality is that saturated fat is not only safe, it’s healthy.

Saturated fats are not associated with all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, stroke, or type 2 diabetes, based on a meta-analysis.

A meta-analysis of prospective epidemiologic studies showed that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease. That analysis included nearly 350,000 participants.

Red meat is nutritious

Red meat is a nutritional powerhouse and contains virtually all the nutrients we need, and in the right proportions. Check out the following chart, comparing the nutritional content of beef with spinach, borrowed from Michael Joseph.

Red meat is also loaded with protein and healthy fats,  which you can’t get from any fruit or vegetable.

Red meat will keep you strong, muscular, and lean, much more than any vegetarian fare could. This is especially important in aging, when muscle loss and obesity become more prevalent and lead to disability and dependence. It’s a shame that older people are told not to eat so much meat. Lack of meat in your diet can and probably will lead to illness, both physical and mental.

In older adults, meeting or exceeding the RDA for dietary protein is associated with better lean body mass (i.e. muscle), meaning that people who eat enough protein are more likely to thrive and are less likely to become frail.

Red meat doesn’t spike glucose or insulin

Red meat also shines for what it does not do.

Red meat doesn’t spike up levels of glucose and insulin like carbohydrates and sugar do, and therefore is much less likely to cause weight gain.

An increased amount of dietary protein improves blood glucose control by up to 40% in type 2 diabetics.

We saw above that saturated fat has been cleared of charges that it increases heart disease or death rates.

If saturated fat doesn’t cause heart disease, what does? Carbohydrates may be the answer.

In a recent study done in Malaysia, carbohydrates, but not fat, were associated with heart disease risk. And type 2 diabetes and heart disease are linked to carbohydrates, but not fat.

Red meat contains, for all intents and purposes, zero carbohydrate.

Can man live on meat alone?

pra2921348696584211.jpg 1,440×1,092 pixels

Humans have hunted animals and eaten meat for literally millions of years. It doesn’t make much sense that the food that enabled people to survive, thrive, and reproduce also causes disease.

In fact, many people live on a diet of meat only, and have found that it’s improved their health.

The Arctic explorer Vilhalmjur Stefansson, and another man, volunteered to eat an all-meat diet for a year under medical supervision. The doctors’ report stated,  “In these trained subjects, the clinical observations and laboratory studies gave no evidence that any ill effects had occurred from the prolonged use of the exclusive meat diet.”

Hormones and antibiotics

One concern many people have about eating red meat is possible contamination by hormones and antibiotics, which are used in modern meat production.

But the levels of hormones and antibiotics in red meat are nil, even with conventionally produced meat. Foods like soy contain orders of magnitude more hormones than red meat.

Conclusion

The animus against red meat pervades mainstream health advice.

The best thing to do is ignore it, and look at the real causes of modern illness and obesity: sugar, refined carbohydrates, and vegetable oils, all of which processed food contains in abundance.

Red meat forms an important part of a diet based on real, whole foods, not processed junk. Red meat is not merely innocent of the charges against it, but is crucial for health, strength, and vitality.

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38 comments
Jeremias says July 9, 2017

Things become confused between “whole meat” including chicken and pork etc and processed “meat” like Spam or Bologna or BBQ’d meat cooked at high temperatures. Which is the black and blue version is always better!

https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/cooked-meats-fact-sheet

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    Montgomery says July 9, 2017

    The issue about heated food being carcinogenic (not only meat, in heated carbs acrylamide is formed, for example, which kills rats quickly, not so much humans) is seen in almost all __animal__ experiments.

    Heated vs. “natural” food is no contest: In animals, many kinds of heated food is carcinogenic.

    But:
    This is not observed in “human experiments”.
    Why?

    We are the only species on the planet that used fire to heat our food for 100,000s of years.

    If for us humans, like other animals, heated food once was carcinogenic (or otherwise toxic), too – then evolution has long ago killed off those humans and only those who could deal with it well survived and reproduced – and we, their descendants, inherited their robustness toward heated food.

    I repeat:
    We are the only species on the planet adapted to heated food; no laboratory rat or any other organism is.

    Therefore it makes no sense using animal model data to decide if heated food is harmless or dangerous to humans.

    And to make the comment complete:
    Heating food is a good idea, not just because of pathogens, but also because plants defend themselves from being eaten with a lot of chemical “weapons” – most of them losing their effect after heating, freeing the nutrients up for human use in the first place.

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Mellie says July 9, 2017

Great post!

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    P. D. Mangan says July 9, 2017

    Thanks!

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Kevin McHale says July 9, 2017

But red meat does contain quite a lot of iron…..?

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    P. D. Mangan says July 9, 2017

    Yes, it does, but red meat isn’t necessarily, nor is it likely to be, the most important factor in excess body iron. Other important factors include iron-fortified food (flour, corn meal, rice, breakfast cereals), iron supplements, alcohol, sugar, and fruit juice, all of which increase iron absorption and appear to override the body’s natural iron regulation. Genetics are important too. The main point about iron is that some people accumulate an excess amount as they age, and that it should be measured and dealt with if necessary.

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Mike says July 9, 2017

So what’s the best kind of meat to eat?

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    P. D. Mangan says July 9, 2017

    I’d argue that beef is, due to a superior fatty acid profile, mainly less omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, and more monounsaturated and saturated fats. Pork and especially chicken contain more omega-6. Other meats may be just as good, such as lamb, goat or game meats, and fish is up there.

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      Alan E says July 9, 2017

      Talking fat, just to let all know, avocados should only be eaten once a week because of very high omega 6.

      Grass fed beef is fine.

      The iron issue is critical for health. Iron in meat is fine to a degree, iron in flour is not. Since 1941, iron was mandated by the government to be added to all flour and everything you ate since then that had these iron shavings added has accumulated in your body. The best thing to do for ones health is to Dump The Iron via donations. I am visiting One Blood tomorrow!

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NikNYC says July 9, 2017

Grassfed craze comment? Very expensive. Have to join coop group and buy a big freezer to afford it at all in Manhattan. Worth it?

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Bill says July 9, 2017

PD, My background is farming. I enjoy having some steak or lamb so I’m interested in this post. I have a question and some comments.
1) What do you know of Neu5Gc in red meat ? This was thrust at me a week or so ago as a good reason for not eating red meats but sticking to white meats and seafood and eggs.

2 : I suggest grass fed is better. I have been inside, on a couple of occasions, beef cattle feedlot operations here in Australia. What I saw astonished me : 45-50,000 head of cattle in hundreds of steel rails 15 meter’ by meter pens. All standing in cow shit a foot deep and getting deeper day by day. The feed was formulated to make them fat fast: mostly corn & soy, but laced with salt, industrial oil and antibiotics to encourage fast growth and to prevent infection from being extraordinarily crowded and being knee deep in their own shit.The pens are only cleaned out when the cattle in them are slaughtered. Usually here after 65 days.

The feed lot operations here in Oz are modeled on the way they are done in North America. In fact at the manages at one of the feed lots I saw said that their operation was small compared to the ones in the US. So I suggest that my comments apply there as well – with spades

Here in Oz we are lucky. Sheep are not ‘feedlotted’ so lamb is OK. A lot of cattle are feedlotted here for sale in export markets and the cheaper super markets. So many butchers specialise in selling only grass fed beef. A few specialise in selling certified organic meat which is prohibits feedlotting of organic cattle here. ( But. NOT in the USA )

There are multiple health and safety reasons for not buying meat from such feed lot operations even though it is cheaper than grass fed. Antibiotic resistance is an obvious major one.I’m sure folks here can think of others.

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    George Henderson says July 9, 2017

    Actually lamb is feedlotted in Australia, I learned recently, but hopefully this is just for the sucker value-added export market, and you can still get cheap meat that hasn’t been grain fed.
    As for processed meat, if you dig down into EPIC-Europe you’ll find that the association between bacon and colorectal cancer is a non-significant 0.96.
    In animal studies, bacon actually prevents cancer. So what little evidence there is that’s SPECIFICALLY about bacon is not in any way indicating a problem with this food. It’s a sliced cured meat that you cook fresh, and finely ground pre-cooked meats may well be less salubrious.
    Of course there are 3 big US populations where meat is associated with everything under the sun. These are NHS, HPFS, and AARP-NIH. What makes there populations different? Simple.
    Nurses (NHS) and doctors (HPFS) were the exact groups charged with delivering advice to cut down on red meat. Retirees (AARP) were their captive audience. Whereas EPIC-Europe is just a representative sample of the European populations, people who had little reason to be biased against meat.

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      Bill says July 10, 2017

      Well George, I stand corrected. And thanks for that. I was not aware of it.

      It’s interesting the Australian sheep industry flock has decreased from 160 million 20 years ago to just 67 million this year. From reading around today most of the feedlotting is to meet export demand where a certain carcus weight is demanded in exchange for a higher price being paid. But on this I am uncertain.

      In Australia the organic certification standards prohibit feedlotting of cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens or any other domesticate live stock. So grain feeding is always supplementary. Unfortunately that is not the case in the USA or Europe where organic live stock can all shedded over Winter. ( which amounts to about 4 months ) …And still be certified as organic. I have heard that the same applies to organic certified livestock in EU countries. and the UK.

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      P. D. Mangan says July 10, 2017

      Thanks, George. Interesting observation about the difference between those studies, and thanks for pointing out the non-significance of processed meat in the EPIC study. For those who haven’t seen it, here’s the study on bacon and cancer in rats, which concluded: “The results suggest that, in rats, beef does not promote the growth of ACF and chicken does not protect against colon carcinogenesis. A bacon-based diet appears to protect against carcinogenesis, perhaps because bacon contains 5% NaCl and increased the rats’ water intake.” There was 20% lower colon tumor formation in rats given a diet of 60% bacon.

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    Nick says July 10, 2017

    When Mrs & I started converting over to free-range, grass-fed, and/or organic foodstuffs around the end of the last millennium (in our old life in Oregon), we found the more naturally-raised meats to be just…tastier. Yes, OK, a steak from an obese animal that’s been kept as inactive as possible will be fattier and more tender, but I’ve honestly *always* liked my meat to be …well… meatier. IOW, I’ve been on the grass-fed/organic bandwagon for a while now.

    Here in Germany, in the EU, organic certifications are supposedly stricter and more tightly-controlled than in the US. We buy exclusively organic food for home consumption; when we go out to eat, we’re more at the mercy of whatever they buy. I’ve never been concerned about the hormones and antibiotics doing anything to *me*, but rather, their effects on the environment. And as an animal-lover, I prefer to think that the animals I eat have been better cared for rather than worse.

    We’ve got several organic grocery chains here, so I almost never even see non-organic food in stores any more. Then on a trip back to the US a couple of years ago, I was struck by the massive size and complete uniformity of the veg I saw, especially the bell peppers. It was odd.

    Anyway, I’m no longer certain that my perferred organic beef *tastes* better; it may very well be what I want it to taste like. I’d be open for a side-by-side comparison.

    Mom grew up on a farm with 11 siblings. I once asked her if Granddad used pesticides. No, they were too expensive in the early years, and he had the kids to pull weeds all summer long.

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    P. D. Mangan says July 10, 2017

    Bill: re Neu5Gc, as far as I know, all of the work on it has been mechanistic or in animals, and no association has been shown between human consumption and cancer. If it really were a problem, then in the epidemiological studies (some of which I cited), we’d see higher cancer rates with higher red meat consumption, and especially in colorectal cancer. But we don’t see that.

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      George Henderson says July 11, 2017

      My take on Neu5Gc is, that firstly, it’s highly unusual and unethical to issue public health warnings based on such a small body of evidence.
      Secondly, the proposed mechanism for Neu5Gc and CVD, that Neu5Gc expression on cells attracts autoimmunity, has plausibility, but there are many many other good competing explanations for an autoimmune component of CVD.
      And it falls down completely when applied to cancer – Neu5Gc is supposed to promote cancer because it is much more highly expressed on the surface of cancer cells.
      I don’t know about you but I’d pay good money to know that cancer cells were attracting the tender attentions of my immune system.
      This part of the story is not logical, and the fact that no-one promoting it has noticed this indicates how much of a role wishful thinking rather than careful analysis has played in building it up thus far.

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Daniel F says July 9, 2017

Dennis, thank you for this post. Two questions:

1. Do you have a view on the method of cooking red meat as a factor in its healthfulness? Paul Jaminet buys into the theory that roasting and similar direct fire techniques create more carcinogens, and that gentle cooking (stew, boiling) are to be preferred. From an evolutionary standpoint, this always struck me as surprising: we would have been cooking without vessels for a long time, so wouldn’t roasting (and the “carciniogens” that accompany it) be something we are adopted to handle?

2. Even if red meat is good, do you think there is too much emphasis on muscle meat versus other cuts such as tendons that provide different types of proteins, and that we should be eating a more balanced proportion of tendon and connective tissues rather than muscle meat (steak)?

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    Bill says July 9, 2017

    Daniel, the tendons and connective tissues are what are used to make the OTC supplement chondroitin Sulfate. And CS is heart & artery protective.

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    P. D. Mangan says July 10, 2017

    Hi Daniel, my feeling is that the method of cooking isn’t very important, in part because of the reason you give, although I admit it’s mostly just a biased opinion. In theory, different cooking methods do raise or lower the amount of carcinogens, but in my opinion, cancer just doesn’t happen in the way most people think. (Although I would have a hard time backing up this opinion too, so caveat emptor.) To my mind, many conditions must be present for cancer to start, and the mere presence of relatively low doses of a carcinogen is only one of the. For example, we see higher cancer rates in the obese, and I think that says a lot about the conditions necessary for cancer: high insulin and glucose levels, being sedentary, never activating AMPK, continuous mTOR activation, inflammation, etc.

    As for muscle vs organ meat, while there are certainly benefits from eating organs (or tendons), in my opinion that’s not mandatory for health. I never eat them, just because of what’s available in the stores, although maybe I should. Recently the GF picked up some beef kidneys for the cat, and I told her that I’d eat them, which she was reluctant to do herself. They were quite cheap and when I was cutting them up for the cat, looked good.

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      Daniel F says July 10, 2017

      Many thanks for your insights.

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      Bill says July 11, 2017

      Thanks PD & George. Dr Gundry makes a big fuss of it in his new book published this year… But his explanation seems perplexing.

      First he ‘bans’ all grains and potatoes as ‘novel’ foods that we are not evolved to handle well in a digestive sense.

      This I find perplexing. Evolution can happen very rapidly. But it is true that humans have been eating grains for only 10-12,000 years and potatoes in Peru for maybe 3,000 years.. So that’s a shortish time frame..

      But meat eating is something we are evolved to handle after a couple of hundred thousand years of being carnivorous.. So by his own logic he is out ‘sprung’.

      By the way, dairy foods, he has an each way bet on, (Maybe Ok, Maybe not ), even though dairy has only been part of diet of some humans from northern Europe for 3-4,000 years.

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Nick says July 10, 2017

Mom’s dad died of “intestinal” cancer around 1971. Her mother had esophogeal cancer, but died of something else later. So GI-tract cancer runs in my family, and I’ve got that in the back of my mind.

Mom’s parents were 20th-century farmers though, and presumably ate lots and lots and lots and lots of sausage, as well as white bread and taters. Their well water in southern Minnesota may have been loaded with metals too. So I do have to wonder if that lead to their cancers.

All that in mind, I’d be curious to go zero-carb (save yoghurt & cheese) for a while, but I just love my vegetables and nuts too much.

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bigmyc says July 10, 2017

Since my discovery of Paleo living principles and the light that they have shed upon ancestral eating habits, meat hasn’t been the bogeyman to me that many would have one believe. While CAFO products are still best avoided, if there is indeed a “superfood,” I have been saying that meat is probably it. The only real detractor that I can think of is the absorption of iron by meat consumption. I haven’t yet reconciled how the iron in meat, heme iron in red meat particularly, could be so readily absorbed (and why?) by the human physiology if it is so oxidative and pernicious to our health.

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Ole says July 10, 2017

Not a single word about the formation of AGE in meat and fat?
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3704564/

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    Bill says July 10, 2017

    Usefull info if you are diabetic Ole. This study was funded by the USA Diabetics association. And seems to be promoting a meat free diet for them.

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    P. D. Mangan says July 10, 2017

    High blood sugar is a much more potent cause of AGEs than meat, and it’s also not clear how much ingested AGEs, as opposed to those generated endogenously, matter for health. Therefore, no mention of AGEs in meat and fat. Next question.

    BTW, you never answered my previous question as to whether you’re a vegan.

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Ole says July 10, 2017

Just because meat contains less AGE than processed sugary foods, doesn’t automatically make it an innocent choice. I agree with you that meat, from a nutritional perspective, is a near perfect choice. Also, you do not mention e.g. L-taurine and L-carnosine as important components of meat consumption. Although, non-essential, the amount synthesized by the body drops as part of the aging process.

And sorry for not answering your question. No I am not a vegan, but I try to limit the consumption of meat. I prefer to get my protein from plant sources as well. Kale and quinoa are examples of complete proteins. As far as meat is concerned, TMAO and altered gut microbiome are my primary concerns.

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    Drifter says July 11, 2017

    Two interesting reads on TMAO…basically it doesn’t sound like an issue, especially if you eat lots of vegetables with yous meat. And if it is an issue, then lots of other foods are a bigger problem.

    http://perfecthealthdiet.com/2013/04/lessons-from-the-latest-red-meat-scare/

    https://www.westonaprice.org/carnitine-and-heart-disease/

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      Ole says July 11, 2017

      Exactly, Drifter…

      .”If you eat it with lots of vegetables”, which is what I do.

      You don’t need to eat meat every day. Try a couple of days a weeks to replace meat with quinoa, lentils,, kale or whatever. Reduce the TMAO burden and keep the gut microbiome failry intact.

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        P. D. Mangan says July 11, 2017

        Eating fish causes far higher, up to 40- to 60-fold higher, blood levels of TMAO than eating beef or eggs.

        A crossover feeding trial in healthy young men (n = 40) was conducted with meals containing TMAO (fish), its dietary precursors, choline (eggs) and carnitine (beef), and a fruit control. Fish yielded higher circulating and urinary concentrations of TMAO (46–62 times; p < 0.0001), trimethylamine (8–14 times; p < 0.0001), and dimethylamine (4-6-times; P<0.0001) than eggs, beef, or the fruit control. Circulating TMAO concentrations were increased within 15 min of fish consumption, suggesting that dietary TMAO can be absorbed without processing by gut microbes. Analysis of 16S rRNA genes indicated that high-TMAO producers (≥20% increase in urinary TMAO in response to eggs and beef) had more Firmicutes than Bacteroidetes (p = 0.04) and less gut microbiota diversity (p = 0.03).

        Fish consumption is associated with a reduced risk of CVD. TMAO? No, LMAO. Complete red herring.

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          Ole says July 11, 2017

          As for fish consumption, there may be other variables involved, we simply don’t know. Our genetics differ as well. I prefer to err on side of caution. Fermentation of animal protein produces toxic byproducts. Some of us seem to be able to handle it, others not so well.

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          Joshua says July 12, 2017

          “Fish consumption is associated with a reduced risk of CVD. TMAO? No, LMAO. Complete red herring.”

          Hahahahaha

          Everything about that comment was great. Makes a good point, nice riff on TMAO, and the use of “red herring” in a comment about fish….I love it.

          I’m actually a bit surprised that every vegan fanatic (that might be a redundant phrase) on the ‘net didn’t descent upon this post and start flaming. But I’m not complaining.

          I love red meat, but I’ve been cutting back just because my ferritin levels are too high. Hoping to fix that via blood donations (3 times so far).

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Martinho says July 11, 2017

Thank you for this. I would share on FB but don’t want to deal with all the mal-informed haters. Instead, I will continue to join my bistecca fiorentina!

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Bill says July 11, 2017

Off Topic PD.. But very interesting. About Phalates in food

http://indaily.com.au/news/2017/07/12/food-packaging-chemical-linked-to-chronic-disease-sa-study/

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    P. D. Mangan says July 12, 2017

    Thanks, Bill, very interesting.

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Vegetable Oils Are Dangerous to Health - Rogue Health and Fitness says July 12, 2017

[…] have extolled the alleged virtues of vegetable oils, at the same time that they’ve been denigrating meat. Vegetable oils, they tell us, are full of “healthy” polyunsaturated fat, unlike meat, […]

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