Sizzling steaks and juicy burgers are staples in many people’s diets, but recent studies have indicated that eating large amounts of red meat are associated with type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke and certain cancers. In particular, the Harvard School of Public Health released a study that found eating large amounts of red meat increased the risk of cardiovascular death by 20 percent and the risk of cancer related deaths by 10 to 16 percent.
“This large-scale patient study does not necessarily demonstrate that the regular consumption of red meat causes cardiovascular or cancer mortality,” says Stephen Hu, MD, a cardiovascular disease specialist at Scripps Clinic in San Diego. “However, it does give a pretty good idea of the way eating red meat can affect your health.”
Given the study’s findings and the fact that red meat is high in cholesterol, saturated fats and sodium, Dr. Hu recommends “eating red meat in moderation and incorporating more high-protein, low-fat alternatives, such as chicken and fish, into your diet.”
“People who are at an increased risk of heart failure or stroke — those with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or a family history of cardiovascular disease — should try to eliminate most, if not all, consumption of red meat,” suggests Dr. Hu. However, for people who want to have red meat as a part of their diet, Dr. Hu recommends “eating only 6-8 ounce portions once or twice per week. Don’t be fooled by ‘the other white meat.’ Pork is also classified a red meat for dietary purposes.”
Dr. Hu adds that the cut of meat is also very important. He advises selecting non-processed, lean cuts of meats that are hormone-free, organic or free-range.
“Processed meats are high in nitrates and sodium, and you do not really know which part of the animal you are eating.”
“High temperature cooking of red meat, or even poultry and fish, can generate hydrocarbons that are carcinogenic and have been linked to stomach cancer,” states Dr. Hu. “This type of high temperature cooking regularly occurs when steaks are grilled over high heat to get that ‘black char’ look and taste. Instead, it is healthier to grill over medium or indirect heat.”
Additionally, Dr. Hu recommends cooking meats via sous-vide. Sous-vide is a method of cooking where you put the meat in an airtight plastic bag then place it in a water bath to cook.
Many of Dr. Hu’s patients grew up eating red meat on a daily basis and find it difficult to suddenly and completely change their diets.
“Just like adults, children do not need to eat much red meat because they can get all of their nourishment via healthier alternatives such as chicken, fish and legumes,” notes Dr. Hu. “Having children eat red meat in moderation when they are younger helps them develop healthy eating habits that will stick with them throughout their life.”