By Elliot Fisher MS, ATC, CSCS, PES
Red meat is a popular food. Steaks are high in protein and other vitamins and minerals. However, red meat is also high in fat, cholesterol, and calories. For people who have heart disease, high cholesterol, or other health issues, it’s typically recommended to avoid or limit red meat. This recommendation is due to the myriad of research showing poor health outcomes in people who eat red meat. These health outcomes include dyslipidemia, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, etc. Recently, a nutrition guideline was published by the Nutritional Recommendations Consortium recommending people to continue red meat consumption and not to decrease consumption.(1)
Level of Evidence
In research there are different levels of evidence. It’s typically rated 1-5, 1 being the highest level of evidence, and 5 being the lowest level. When citing research, it’s better to use high level evidence rather than lower level evidence. For example, it’s better for a doctor to say a recent systematic review on this medication showed this drug was safe than to say there was a non randomized non controlled study where this medication was used on rats and it was shown to be safe.
This study looked at multiple systematic reviews to for their research. Systematic reviews are level 1 or 2 depending on the type of studies that were included in the review. So this study was using high level evidence studies for its information.
Health Considerations and Red Meat
The biggest things to consider for health with red meat consumption are heart disease and cancer.
Heart disease is multifactorial in its causes. Dyslipidemia is a condition where blood cholesterol values are out of normal ranges. This includes high LDL cholesterol, high vLDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, and high triglycerides. When blood lipid values are out of range, especially when chronic, it is a sign of poor heart health. It can be caused by arterial damage as the vessels repair themselves with cholesterol, which may then become a blockage if too much cholesterol has packed in an area.
Cancer also has many factors but one important factor is to avoid carcinogenic substances. Carcinogenic substances have been shown to cause cancer. For example, UV rays are carcinogenic as we know people who are exposed to too much UV rays get skin cancer.
Red meat has a bad reputation because it is shown to be linked with poor blood lipids (high saturated fat content) and has likely carcinogenic effects for unprocessed red meat and has been shown to be carcinogenic for processed red meat.
Good health like poor health has many factors. Including physical activity, fitness, and diet.
Physical activity is very important for health. By being more physically active (even at low levels like walking daily) has been shown to increase health markers. Additionally, the greater your level of cardiovascular fitness the better your health markers tend to be.
It’s obvious to many people that diet is important for health. Arguably, the most important factor for your health is your caloric intake. The amount of calories you eat directly influences your bodyweight. If you eat in at caloric maintenance you will maintain your weight. If you eat more you will gain weight. And if you eat less calories you will lose weight. This is important for health because it impacts your body mass index (BMI) which has strong correlations for your overall health.
In previous lower level studies, it’s unlikely red meat consumption research had fitness and other dietary controls. Meaning it’s likely that you’ll find more correlation between red meat consumption with other unhealthy lifestyle factors, and those are the cause of the decrease in health not the red meat.
Red Meat Health Benefits
Red meat is very nutrient dense. It’s loaded with B vitamins, heme-iron, potassium, zinc, magnesium, and other vitamins and minerals.(2,3) Steak is also very high in protein and can be purchased in cuts that are lower in fat and in calories. Red meat in moderation offers many nutrients that are difficult to get from other foods, and are very bio available in comparison to non animal sources.
Red meat has many benefits to offer. Previous research may not have been directly correlated to the red meat but other factors related to poor health. The new study reviewing systematic reviews found that red meat was low risk for health outcomes and that reducing your current red meat consumption likely will not make a noteworthy change in your health.
Johnston, B. C., Zeraatkar, D., Han, M. A., Vernooij, R. W., Valli, C., El Dib, R., … & Bhatia, F. (2019). Unprocessed Red Meat and Processed Meat Consumption: Dietary Guideline Recommendations From the Nutritional Recommendations (NutriRECS) Consortium. Annals of Internal Medicine.
Efferding S,McCune D. (2019). The Vertical Diet and Peak Performance 3.0. TheKooler.com