Red (Meat) Scare?
December 7, 2012 12:31 PM   Subscribe

Are their health risks associated with grass-fed, lean red meat that I'm missing, or am I just having trouble shaking the years of anti-red meat propaganda?

You won't get any argument from me that cheeseburgers and ribeyes are bad news as dietary staples, but I favor a relatively high protein diet and get superbored with chicken breasts (not to mention the fact that they're an utter pain in the ass to actually cook well), don't care for fish, and am just about completely uninterested in healthy cuts of pork. If I had my way, I'd be eating grass fed, well-trimmed flank steak just about every other day. Are there compelling health reasons not to?
posted by jimmysmits to Food & Drink (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Let me preface this by saying that I'm a paleo-eating type totally in favor of a high-protein diet. There have been some observational studies (The Nursing Study) that found that high consumption of red meat was correlated to poor health outcomes over time. The mechanism for this is not exactly known, but one culprit might be high quantities of heme iron (the stuff that makes red meat and blood red) interfering with bodily processes. One of the ways this might occur is through the gut microbiota - excess iron in the diet passes through to the gut, and can encourage overgrowth of "bad" bacteria. Another possible issue for men in particular is an excess of iron in the blood, basically the opposite of anemia. This can be made worse by certain genes present in some members of the population that predispose them to store iron (the genetic disease hemachromatosis, often undiagnosed, a discussion of this disease was in the book "Survival of the Sickest"). One way that some people get around this is by donating blood regularly; the thought is that women avoid excess iron (indeed, often suffer from anemia) due to regular bloodletting (i.e. menstruation). Some foods such as chiles and green tea can reduce iron absorption when consumed with iron containing foods.

In summary, it's not likely to kill you anytime soon if you consume a lot of meat. Many paleo types consume the amount of red meat that you are proposing. It's my personal belief that eating a lot of red meat is not very good for you, especially when long-term longevity is concerned, and that's why I include a lot of eggs and fish in my diet, instead of eating red meat all the time.
posted by permiechickie at 12:49 PM on December 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

How well do you cook your beef? Charred steak gets covered in polycyclic aromatics that are known carcinogens. What that risk is in relation to the wider soup of chemicals we inhale and ingest on a daily basis is uncertain, but if you eat that stuff every day, you are probably increasing your risk of various cancers (such as colon cancer, for which increased meat consumption is a known, increased risk). That won't stop me from enjoying the odd hamburger, but it is a risk, nonetheless, that people should know about.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:55 PM on December 7, 2012

As this previous question and this other previous question discuss, this is a pretty controversial question among people who are well-versed in nutrition science. Gary Taubes would probably tell you that you should be eating as much grass-fed beef as you like (lean or not), and Dean Ornish would probably tell you to stick to eating moderate amounts of lean meat. Taubes spends a lot of time explaining that observational studies aren't very useful due to "compliance effect" (people who pay attention to doctors tend to not eat much red meat!), but you might disagree with his reasoning.
posted by dreamyshade at 12:58 PM on December 7, 2012

Thanks for the information so far- this is very helpful and gives me some things to follow up on. I suspect there's no clear answer to be had, but I'm finding that the more good red meat I eat the less fat I become, because I can actually get excited about and feel satisfied by a low-carb, steak and vegetable based dinner, and that alone might be enough to offset some of the other red meat risk factors out there.

Now if anyone can find me a study showing that a tumbler of scotch and a cigarette offset any negative health effects of red meat consumption, dinner is on me :)
posted by jimmysmits at 1:11 PM on December 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I, too, hate cooking chicken breasts. (Chicken thighs are another matter entirely). However, cooking with ground turkey is delightful. I have grown to prefer turkey meatloaf to the "real" thing, and turkey meatballs and turkey chilli are also good ways to substitute white meat for red meat. If you can afford lean, high-quality meat and you cook it well, you are eating in a way that may or may not be healthy according to whatever expert you listen to, but is a lot healthier than the way most people eat. But if you want to cut down on the amount of red meat you eat, substituting ground turkey for ground beef is an easy way to do that.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 1:25 PM on December 7, 2012

My understanding is that the science is pretty clear on the risks of eating red meat. Here's an entry from earlier in the year:
Eating red meat is associated with a sharply increased risk of death from cancer and heart disease, according to a new study, and the more of it you eat, the greater the risk.
[In the study] each daily increase of three ounces of red meat was associated with a 12 percent greater risk of dying over all, including a 16 percent greater risk of cardiovascular death and a 10 percent greater risk of cancer death.

Risks: More Red Meat, More Mortality
I don't think this is propaganda, anymore than advocacy in favor of vaccinations is propaganda. It's science and public health.
posted by alms at 6:28 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Lots and lots of meat studies here, and it's not a pretty picture. That said, I'm guessing people in those studies weren't eating grass-fed beef.

And, lots more bad studies on chicken, including high arsenic levels. Though again, these don't seem to be local-free-range chickens.

Do I have to even mention pork? Fish don't do so well either.

I'm not trying to get on a soapbox. Try to get the best quality meat/chicken/pork/fish you can. And, as "tapesonthefloor" said, try to mix in some plant-based protein sources to your meal plan.

Good luck!
posted by sarah_pdx at 6:48 PM on December 7, 2012

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