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People who love to eat beef or pork often face a dilemma. While people from the meat industry promote lean red meat as a heart friendly diet, studies show that consuming it is associated with heart diseases and cancers. So what exactly is the truth?

Are there any benefits in eating red meat or is it better not eaten has been a long standing debate. Among the claims and counter claims made by people on either side of the debate, it is the common man who is left a confused soul. In this article, I have tried to incorporate both the advantages and the disadvantages of consuming red meat for the benefit of the readers.

Are there any benefits in eating red meat or is it better not eaten has been a long standing...

Advantages of eating red meat

Let us first begin with the advantages of eating red meat since they are seldom highlighted.

  1. Red meat is a very good source of protein which is so essential for the building of bones and muscles.
  2. Red meat is an excellent source of heme iron. This form of iron is readily absorbed by the body and can be extremely good for patients suffering from iron deficiency anemia. Girls and women of child bearing age are often anemic because of loss of blood during menstrual cycles. Consumption of red meat loaded with heme iron may be of great help to them.
  3. Red meat is also rich in vitamin B12, a vitamin required for the production of DNA. Besides, vitamin B12 is also essential for maintaining the red blood cells in a good health.
  4. Red meat contains sufficient quantities of zinc which is so important for the proper working of the immune system.
In fact, red meat is among the best nutrient dense foods. According to Shalene McNeil, PhD, executive director of nutrition research for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a one ounce serving of lean beef provides 10 essential nutrients while containing just 180 calories.

If the red meat is so good then why do physicians discourage us from eating it on a regular basis? This is because red meat is loaded with saturated fats which increase the blood cholesterol levels. High cholesterol is the main reason behind multiple cardiovascular diseases.

Apart from diseases of the heart, red meat consumption has been associated with the development of many types of cancers. While its link with colorectal cancer has been established by many studies, there are evidences to show red meat being linked to lung, esophageal, pancreatic, stomach and endometrial cancers as well. After reviewing the results of multiple scientific studies, an expert panel comprising members from the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research came to a conclusion in 2007 that red meat or processed meats are convincing or probable sources of the above mentioned cancers.

Consumption Of Red Meat Can Lead To Increased Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Consumption of red meat has also been associated with increased greenhouse gas emissions. A study published in the British Medical Journal examined the amount of red meat consumed by the people and the green gas emissions. It found that people who regularly ate red or processed red meat generally ate more than other people.

Consumption Of Red Meat Can Lead To Increased Greenhouse Gas Emissions Consumption of red meat...

If these people adjusted their eating habits so that they consumed at par with people who consumed less meat, the risk of diseases like diabetes, heart diseases and colorectal cancer would be decreased by as much as 3 to 12 percent.

If men who consume 91 grams of red meat per day cut it down to 53 grams, the risk of colorectal cancer and diabetes type 2 can be decreased by 12 percent. Moreover, the greenhouse gas emissions linked with food and beverages would be reduced by 0.45 tons per person per year.

Study links consumption of red meat to increased mortality

According to the results of a national Institutes of Health –AARP study comprising of more than half million Americans, people who consumed large portions of red meat and processed meat over a 10 years period have an increased likelihood of dying earlier compared to people who consume small portions of red meat or abstain from it completely.

In comparison to people who consume less than half ounce of red meat a day, people eating 4 ounces of red meat every day are more likely to die of cancer or heart disease.

Another study, which followed about 72,000 women who ate a Western diet comprising heavily of red and processed meats, for 18 years, concluded that these women had an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, and death from related causes.

Yet another study published in the April 2012 issue of the journal Archives of Internal Medicine has concluded that consumption of red meat is linked to an increased risk of total, CVD and cancer mortality. When the red meat in the diet is substituted by other healthy protein sources like, whole grains, fish, poultry, low fat dairy or legumes, the mortality risk is reduced.

Factors responsible for increased risk of cancer on consuming red meat in large quantities

Researchers have been trying to find out how exactly is red meat consumption associated with increased risk of developing cancer. Some of the factors which they have zeroed on include:

  • Saturated Fat which is present in large quantities in red meat. It increases the risk of heart disease as well as cancers of breast and colon.
  • Some researchers have opined that carcinogens are released during the process of cooking red meat.
  • Heme iron, which is beneficial in patients of anemia, may also produce certain chemicals harmful to cells. Damage to cells because of these chemicals may result in cancer.

Considering the harmful effects of red meat on the health, the American Institute for Cancer Research has recommended that one should not consume more than 18 ounces of cooked red meat a week. In view of their association with colorectal cancer, the institute has also advised to abstain from all processed meats like sausages, ham, hot dogs, etc.

Steps that can be taken to reduce the formation of potential carcinogens while preparing red meat

People who just cannot resist eating red meat can take the following steps to reduce the formation of carcinogens while grilling:

  • Opt for lean red meat cuts
  • Cook over a medium flame rather than a high flame which can cause charring and produce carcinogens.
  • Limit the time of frying and broiling.
  • Marinate as it reduces the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which increase the risk of cancer.
  • Do not overcook the meat. Also, remember to turn the meat frequently while cooking.
Read full article

  • “Eating Less Red Meat Could Benefit Health and Environment, Study Suggests”, published in the September (, 2012 issue of Huffington Post, accessed on November 20, 2012.
  • “The Truth about Red Meat”, by Elizabeth Lee, published on the WebMD site, accessed on November 20, 2012.
  • “Red Meat Consumption and Mortality Results From 2 Prospective Cohort Studies”, by An Pan, et al, published in the April 9, 2012 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, accessed on November 20, 2012.
  • Photo courtesy of alanchan on Flickr:
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