Risk Factor of The Week: The RIGHT Kind of Red Meat in Moderation
The Question: On average, how many servings of red meat do you have per WEEK?
What Counts as a Serving?
The studies we covered used 3 ounces, or the size of a computer mouse, as a single serving and should be answered as such. That being said, new guidelines by My Plate now tell you to think of 1 oz of red meat as a single serving of protein, and the average adult, aged 19-59, should aim for at least 6-7 ounces of all equivalent sources. Equivalent sources include: 1 oz of any meats, 1 egg, or 1/4 cup of beans.
How Your Response Matches Up?
RiskAverse Conditions Affected
Coronary Artery Disease
Diabetes Type 2
Understanding the Various Types of Red Meat
Red meats are those that are “red” when raw. These include beef, pork, lamb, and venison.
Processed vs. Unprocessed
After defining the animal source, red meat can be broken down into processed and unprocessed categories. Processed red meats are those that have been cured, salted, smoked, or otherwise preserved in some way. If you are unsure, an easy way to distinguish the two is how long they are reported to last. Unprocessed meat will last about 5 days in your fridge, while processed meats have longer shelf lives. Additionally, another way to identify processing is to look for the terms above, like “cured,” “smoked,” or “dry-aged” on the packaging.
Feed-fed vs. Grass-fed Unprocessed, Red Meat
For a variety of reasons, recently there has been a split of unprocessed red meats into feed-fed and grass-fed. Here we will break down the two types from a functional standpoint:
- Feed-fed – This is the type that was raised through a more commercial approach. It prioritizes efficiently producing beef to get it to the masses and as a result, it is cheaper but sacrifices the nutritional value of the meat. At the grocery store, you will see no extra labels on this meat – just the type of meat and the cut.
- Grass-fed – Grass-fed puts an emphasis on the animals grazing on more natural and diverse food sources. Grass-fed is typically more expensive due to the land it takes up and the leaner animal produced. Look for cuts of meat labeled as grass-fed at the supermarket.
Types of Red Meat
Red Meat in the Diet and the Associated Health Effects
Processed Red Meats are Best Limited or Completely Avoided
Most people know that processed meats are bad for you and are best avoided, but the idea that you have to always avoid them to live a healthy life is not true. It is regular consumption (daily or even a few times a week) that results in detrimental effects. Therefore, if you are craving an Italian sub from the local deli or a hot dog at the ballpark, then go for it. Just don’t make that a regular occurrence.
Negative effects of processed meats include increased risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. But these effects are only seen after regular consumption, so a few times a month will not ruin your life! (1)
Unprocessed Red Meat
Red meat is a huge part of many people’s diet, and telling someone to cut it out COMPLETELY is not only typically ineffective, but generally unnecessary. Sure, a piece of chicken might be the better choice head-to-head, but it does not need to be the only choice. According to the World Cancer Research Organization, you should try to limit unprocessed red meat to no more than 3 servings a week. Minor negative effects have been shown at 1-2 servings that can be mitigated by regular healthy choices – like daily fruits and veggies or a light, 20 minute workout. The worst effects are seen when you get above 5 servings a week, including increased cholesterol, significant arterial damage, and increased inflammation. (2)
Feed-Fed vs. Grass-Fed
Previously, I discussed the difference between both types of unprocessed red meat. But to reiterate, feed-fed can be mass-produced more efficiently and is better for your wallet, while sacrificing nutritional value as a result. On the other hand, grass-fed is more nutritious but will cost more. What are the exact differences in nutrition, so you can make your decision?
- Saturated fat – Feed-fed meats contain more saturated fat, which is linked to increased heart disease risk. Though the studies are preliminary, lean cuts of beef have been shown to be as effective as fish and chicken at lowering cholesterol levels. (3)
- Vitamins and Minerals – Both sources actually offer decent vitamins and minerals, but grass-fed offers WAY more vitamin A and E – two major cancer-fighting nutrients.
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids – The omega 3 concentrations are not that different, but the form found in grass-fed is more active. Omega 3 fatty acids promote immune, mental, and heart health, among many more benefits when in their active forms. (4)
Navigating the Types of Red Meat
You are what you eat and what your food eats?
Everyone has heard the phrase “you are what you eat,” and that does have some truth – a healthier diet correlates with a longer life. That being said, recent research has shown that foods like red meat can offer a lot more nutritional benefits when the animal it came from is raised on a more diverse and nutritional diet. Therefore, choosing animal products that have been raised on a more holistic upbringing is always going to be the better choice. This concept holds true across other food groups as well: wild fruit and wild-raised fish are healthier than their commercially-grown counterparts.
The biggest problem is how access to these choices is limited, since they are often much more expensive. Until we can provide these nutritious choices to everyone, we must work with the cards we have been dealt. For best results, you should focus on choosing leaner cuts to limit the negative effects, while trying to not exceed 3 servings of unprocessed red meat per week and limiting processed meats.