The consumption of meat has become a highly controversial topic and most of us are more confused now than ever about how much meat is a good thing. Should you follow a Paleo diet in which meat is the equivalent to nutritional gold, take the vegan path and outlaw it altogether, or take a more flexitarian approach?
What are the nutritional benefits of eating meat?
Meat is an exceptional source of zinc and iron. It also offers these nutritional elements up in packages that can easily be absorbed by your body. These two factors make the consumption of meat, fish, and poultry essential to a healthy, balanced diet. Meat is also high in the protein your body needs to develop muscles and recover from stress and toxin build-up. And let’s not forget that meat provides you with high levels of phosphorus, magnesium, selenium and b-complex vitamins including B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (folic acid), B6 (pyridoxine) and B12 (cobalamin). These are essential for producing energy, fighting disease, boosting fertility, maintaining healthy skin, muscles, eyes and for proper body and brain function. Vitamin B12, in particular, is found only in meat, fish, poultry and to a lesser extent in dairy products. B12 is critical in boosting your immune system, maintaining optimal brain function and in protecting your nervous system. Seafood is another great source of protein. This is mainly due to its high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, which are especially prevalent in tuna and salmon. Consuming fish twice per week has been linked to lower risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
How much meat is too much?
In our quest for high protein diets, we inadvertently tend to increase our meat consumption to irregular levels. The Mediterranean diet recommends eating meat once per week, the Australian pyramid contains 3-4 weekly servings, while in the US we typically support the consumption of lean meat without specifying quantities. Remember that to ensure you are getting enough zinc and iron you should be consuming lean meat. Also, try to have at least one or two days a week that you do not eat meat and instead get your protein from eggs or legumes.
Is red meat bad for our health?
In 2015, the International Agency for Research in Cancer (IARC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that they had found a link between cancer and the consumption of red (beef and pork) and processed meats (bacon, ham, salami, hot dogs). These experts cited more than 800 studies conducted internationally over a span lasting more than 20 years and concluded that red meat was probably carcinogenic. The link was found between red meat and cancers of the prostate and pancreas. Unfortunately, as with many nutritional studies, it is often problematic to find definitive links because it is difficult to isolate causes or risk factors. For example, is it the consumption of meat that leads to disease or a tendency to eat fewer vegetables, smoking, or frequent alcohol consumption? In the end, researchers were not saying to cut meat out of our diets completely, but rather to stop having a juicy steak for dinner every night.
Since then, there have been more and more indicators pointing in this direction. According to a Harvard Nurses’ Health Study of 88,000 women, red meat may increase the risk of breast cancer. Similarly, in Australia, a 2015 study demonstrated that 2,600 cases diagnosed with intestinal cancer in 2010 were a result of red and processed meat consumption. The reason? It could be because of the high-fat content, scorching during cooking, or even because those who eat lots of meat often consume fewer vegetables – or a combination of all of these factors.
Research indicates that consuming more than 100-120 grams of cooked red meat per day increases your risks. And so according to most dieticians, the consumption of red meat is like the sun – small amounts of exposure are good for you, but don’t overdo it. Experts recommend the following strategies to reduce your red meat consumption:
- Choose smaller and leaner cuts, and keep some days meat-free.
- Use fish and poultry as alternatives in recipes requiring red meat.
- Try eggs, cottage cheese and hummus instead of red meat when preparing sandwiches.
Additionally, piling up vegetables on your plate and eating fruit instead of sweets can be good antidotes to the dangers of red meat. Studies prove that the vitamins and polyphenols found in fruit and vegetables can protect you from stomach and intestinal cancers. There are many indicators that the healthiest diets are based on consuming lots of vegetables with a healthy dose of protein. All in all, we shouldn’t be eating outrageous amounts of red meat regularly.
What is white meat and what is red?
The nutritional distinction between white and red meat is based on their content of a protein called myospharine, which helps animals store oxygen in muscle cells. Meats containing higher quantities of myospharine are red and include beef, pork, lamb, goat, deer, ostrich and other game. Chicken, turkey, duck, geese, and in a broader context, fish are all white meat. Processed meats are in their own category and include bacon, salami, ham, pate and hot dogs.
Can we eat bacon for breakfast every day?
Bacon belongs in the processed meat category and as such has been linked to cancer development. Processed meats should be consumed as little as possible so while enjoying bacon once in a while for breakfast might be all right, eating it every day is not. Happily, this risk is less than that of smoking for example or overexposure to UV rays.
Is red meat the best source of iron?
Yes and no. One raw serving of 100 grams of red meat contains the same amount of iron as 3.5 cups of raw spinach. This means that red meat offers a more concentrated source of iron. Dieticians used to believe that that the iron found in red meat was absorbed easier by the body. However, as more and more people become aware of the fact that iron absorption is increased when taken with vitamin C, legumes, grains, eggs, seeds and vegetables have all become excellent sources as well.