Mythbusting: Red Meat
Mythbusting: Red Meat
Do you eat red meat? There seems to be more and more misinformation out there about nutrition everyday and particularly when it comes to red meat, so it’s no wonder that most people are confused on the subject. I should begin by acknowledging the obvious, which is that not all meat is created equal. Some red meats are basically nutritional superfoods, while some shouldn’t even really be considered food at all….
So how do we know the difference between a healthy meat and an unhealthy meat? For starters, many of the studies or articles that talk negatively about red meat fail to distinguish between processed and unprocessed meats, the cooking methods used, and whether or not the meat was grass-fed and finished or fed a diet of corn and antibiotics in the industrial farming complex - giving us a variety of inaccurate results, false information, and misleading stories.
Let’s get back to the basics for the second, shall we? Red meat has been an extremely important part of the human diet throughout evolution, mainly because it is one of the most nutritious foods you can eat. Think about it… cows eats all of the plants that we’re unable to and turn them into nutrients that we can absorb. Red meat is packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and nutrients that you need in order to stay healthy.
For example, a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) portion of raw ground beef (10% fat) contains:
Vitamin B3 (niacin): 25% of the RDA
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin): 37% of the RDA (this vitamin is unattainable from plant foods)
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine): 18% of the RDA
Iron: 12% of the RDA (this is high-quality heme iron, which is absorbed much better than iron from plants)
Zinc: 32% of the RDA
Selenium: 24% of the RDA
Plenty of other vitamins and minerals in smaller amounts
Red meat is also rich in important nutrients like creatine and carnosine. Non-meat eaters, particularly vegans, are often low in these nutrients, which may potentially affect muscle and brain function - often times leaving these eaters feeling consistently tired. Grass-fed beef is considerably more nutritious than grain-fed beef, filled with omega-3s, the fatty acid CLA and higher amounts of vitamins A and E.
In a fascinating 2018 study at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, researchers actually found that red meat was a necessary component in the diet of the study’s female participants.
“We had originally thought that red meat might not be good for mental health, as studies from other countries had found red meat consumption to be associated with physical health risks, but it turns out that it actually may be quite important,” said Felice Jacka, Ph.D., associate professor from Deakin’s Barwon Psychiatric Research Unit.
“When we looked at women consuming less than the recommended amount of red meat in our study, we found that they were twice as likely to have a diagnosed depressive or anxiety disorder as those consuming the recommended amount,” she said.
“Even when we took into account the overall healthiness of the women’s diets, as well as other factors such as their socioeconomic status, physical activity levels, smoking, weight and age, the relationship between low red meat intake and mental health remained. Interestingly, there was no relationship between other forms of protein, such as chicken, pork, fish or plant-based proteins, and mental health.”
Ok, now for the elephant in the room… contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that shows that red meat or saturated fat consumption causes heart disease or diabetes. Zero. Humans have been eating red meat and other nutrient dense animal products for thousands of years. So we can’t really blame the animals for our poor health, can we? Maybe if we start looking for the real culprit, we might realize that a majority of poor health stems from manmade, ultra-processed foods and an inhumane, nutrient-poor industrial farming complex.
In 2018, Americans ate less than 2oz of beef per day, and the global per capita beef consumption has been flat for about 50 years. Increases in developing countries have been offset by declines in developed countries. At the same time, we’re eating more chicken, grains, industrially processed oils and sugars, which all comes with a variety of negative health implications.
Now, there are many people that will try to tell you that humans can get all of the proteins and nutrients that we need from plants… but I would call bullsh*t! Science has shown time and time again that animal sources are the most complete protein sources because they contain all of the amino acids that humans need. Plants alone, do not. Red meat is the most bioavailable source of iron, and a small serving contains 95% of the daily recommended intake of B12, which you cannot get from plants and will actually have a hard time absorbing in supplement form. Currently, iron and B12 are two of the most common nutrient deficiencies worldwide according to the CDC.
So let’s compare a diet filled with meat to a plant-based diet. To get the same amount of protein in a 4oz steak, you’d need to eat at least 12oz of kidney beans plus a cup of rice, which is about 638 calories. What about nuts? To get the 30g of protein from almonds, you would need to consume a little over 1 cup of chopped almonds, which is over 850 calories and 75g of fat. To get the same nutrient value from quinoa as you do from a 3oz serving of red meat, you would need to consume about 15 cups of quinoa. That’s a lot!
But maybe your greater concern is the impact that cows have on carbon emissions and the climate crisis? Well… according to the EPA, all livestock only represents 3.9% of the US GHG emissions. The largest contributors are industry, electricity generation, and transportation - representing a staggering 78.5%. In fact, due to a research error published by the UN in 2006 (which you can read more about HERE), most of these numbers have been distorted to extreme degrees.
Conversely, studies which tracked soil carbon sequestration in mid-west beef finishing systems showed that well-managed cattle on grass (moved frequently to new pasture) are actually a net carbon SINK. When cattle graze on land that we can’t farm and produce high-quality protein and micronutrients from food we can’t eat, they are creating a win/win situation for our health and the environment. Well-managed cattle also improve the water-holding capacity of the land, which makes rainfall more effective. Cattle also improve the health of the soil microbiome and increase biodiversity by providing a rich habitat for pollinators, birds, and other wildlife. With all of that said, removing animal products altogether from the US agriculture system may indeed have a slight impact on lowering greenhouse gas emissions - I won’t try to argue that - but the larger impact would indeed be on in the nutritional deficiencies created for millions of everyday people. It truly is not the cow… it’s the HOW!