Sizzling steaks and juicy burgers are staples in many people’s diets. But research has shown that eating large amounts of red meat is not good for your health. In fact, regular consumption of red and processed meats is associated with type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke and certain cancers, especially colorectal cancer.
According to a well-known, large-scale study, regular consumption of red meat increases the risk of an early death. The 2012 study by the Harvard School of Public Health found:
- One daily serving of unprocessed red meat — about the size of a deck of cards — was associated with a 13% increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease or cancer.
- One daily serving of processed red meat — one hot dog or two slices of bacon — was associated with a 20% increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease or cancer.
“It’s okay to eat meat but limit the amount and choose healthier types. Eating too much red meat comes with health risks and is not part of a healthy diet,” says Stephen Hu, MD, a cardiologist at Scripps Clinic. “Red meat is high in cholesterol, saturated fats and sodium. It should be eaten in a limited fashion.”
Dr. Hu says people who are at risk of heart failure or stroke should really limit red meat consumption. “People with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or a family history of cardiovascular disease should try to eliminate most, if not all red meat.”
Dr. Hu recommends incorporating more high-protein, low-fat alternatives, such as poultry, fish, nuts, legume and whole grains, and vegetables into your diet.
For those who want red meat in their diet, 6- to 8-ounce portions, once or twice per week is recommended. “Don’t be fooled by ‘the other white meat’. Pork is also classified as a red meat for dietary purposes,” he adds.
The cut of meat is also very important. Dr. Hu advises recommends unprocessed, lean cuts of meats that are hormone-free, organic or free-range. Look for cuts that say “round,” “loin” or “sirloin” on the package.
“Processed meats are high in nitrates and sodium, and you do not really know which part of the animal you are eating.”
When cooking meat, avoid burning it.
“Cooking red meat, or even poultry and fish at high temperatures 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.”
Dr. Hu recommends cooking meats via sous vide to avoid burning. This is a cooking method where the meat is placed in an airtight plastic bag or container and cooked in a water bath at a precise temperature.
While people who grew up eating meat daily may find it hard to change their diets, it’s important to think of the health benefits of cutting back. This applies to children as well.
“Just like adults, children do not need to eat much red meat because they can get all their nourishment via healthier alternatives, such as chicken, fish and legumes,” says Dr. Hu.
“Having children eat red meat in moderation helps them develop healthy eating habits that will stick with them throughout their lives.”