A diet high in red meat has been touted to either fatten your waistline and lead to heart disease, or to transform you into a leaner, healthier version of yourself. So what’s the skinny on eating red meat the healthy way?
Beef, lamb, pork*, and venison provide quality protein, B-vitamins, iron**, and zinc. Depending on the cut, meat can be low in fat. When buying meat, pay attention to the source, cut, processing, and preparation method.
Key considerations when choosing the healthiest options for red meat
Source. Meat can be derived from grass-fed cattle that have been raised organically and not fed drugs or hormones. After slaughter, organic meats have not had any chemical preservatives added. Conventional meat comes from animals bred on factory farms and usually exposed to hormones. While the scientific jury continues to debate the health benefits of organic cattle, we advise ideally choosing grass-fed and organic meats.
Processing. Meat can go through a variety of processing to create what may be some of your favorite foods: bacon, hot dogs, sausage, deli meat. Read the labels to understand exactly what is added to these products. The more words that look like chemical names, the more processing the meat has gone through and the less nutrient dense it will be.
Cut. The leanest cuts of meat tend to have the word “loin” in the name: sirloin, tenderloin, pork loin. Also good options are round and bottom round, chuck shoulder steaks, filet mignon, flank steak, bone-in rib chops, lamb loin, and 90-95% lean ground beef.
Portion size. Three to four ounces, or about the size your palm for a burger patty, steak, or chop.
Preparation. Grilled steak is a favorite for many people, but the compounds that form when meat is cooked at very high heat have been linked to health concerns in several studies. Enjoy grilled meats occasionally; more often, choose gentler cooking methods such as braising, stewing, and steaming. If you grill or broil, flip the meat frequently, and don’t set it right on the flame.
Beefy alternatives. Bison/buffalo, venison, and ostrich are lower in saturated fat than beef, high in protein, and good sources of vitamins and minerals.
*Pork is commonly thought of as a white meat, however it fits the nutritional definition of red meat.
**Individuals with high iron may need to be especially cautious with red meat consumption due to the high iron content. To learn more, be sure to read Dr. Eric’s website dedicated to iron overload: HemochromatosisHelp.com
Cooking Light. “The Grass-fed Vs. Grain-fed Cattle Debate.” March 29, 2011. http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/03/29/grass.grain.beef.cookinglight/
Micha, R., S. Wallace, and D. Mozaffarian. “Red and Processed Meat Consumption and Risk of Incident Coronary Heart Disease, Stroke, and Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Abstract. Epidemiology and Prevention 121 (May 17, 2010): 2271-2283.
SF Gate. “Healthy Cooking with Red Meat.” Accessed April 2015.
Web MD. “The Truth about Red Meat.” Reviewed August 29, 2011.
Wikipedia, Red Meat: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_meat