Meat for one person may be poison for another. While some people cannot imagine their meals without a piece of meat, others cannot stand the sight of it. This is how diverse the opinions and attitudes of people towards red meat are, and the debate about it is unending. While meat in itself is not entirely bad, the rate of consumption and the form in which it is consumed may pose health challenges to consumers.

The question as to whether to consume red meat or stay away from it is a matter of personal choice, but before deciding with finality, it helps to demystify a few things about red meat. In many health circles, some questions keep coming up about red meat, fueled by high-profile advocacy campaigns. Research has revealed the following concerning red meat.

1. Which types of meat qualify as red meat?

Sometimes, there is confusion as to what qualifies as red meat. As a general indicator, red meat is that which is derived from mammals reared on the farm. It includes beef, lamb, ham, pork, and other cuts from pigs. It is a standard diet component for the lovers of Paleo diet.

However, followers of the paleo diet avoid processed meats and only eat meat from animals fed on a natural diet. Processed meat includes burgers, sausages, salami, hot dogs, corned beef, and jerky. They are either cured, comminuted, pre-cooked, or have preservatives and binding ingredients added to improve their palatability.

2. Does consumption of red meat increase the risk of heart disease?

Some red meats are known to contain high amounts of saturated fat. Their constant consumption can lead to increased blood cholesterol, which puts the heart at the risk of disease. Recent research conducted by the National Institute of Health showed that consumers of red meat are likely to die of heart disease sooner than those who do not eat it.

Another study found a link between red meat and cancer. The research, involving approximately 72,000 women, for 18 years, showed that eating a diet rich in processed and red meats, refined grains, desserts, and French fries poses a higher risk of getting heart disease and cancer. Death from other causes was also likely to occur.

3. What is the recommended intake of red meat?

According to the Department of Health, people should consume no more than 90 grams of red meat per day. A thin slice of red meat weighs about 30 grams, and hence three such slices should be enough. Processed meats should especially be taken with a lot of caution, as they contain chemicals that increase the risk of disease.

In case you are wondering how much you stand to gain from only 90 grams of meat, remember that it is a rich source of protein, iron, zinc, vitamin B, and saturated fat. Iron is essential in helping the red blood cells transport oxygen. Zinc, although found in grains, eggs, fish, and beans, is best absorbed from red meat.

4. Which are the best cuts of meat?

If you feel like you cannot skip a serving of red meat each day, get the cuts that have the word “loin” in them. These include lamb loin chops, top sirloin, sirloin tip steak, and pork tenderloin. For beef, look for round steaks such as chuck shoulder steaks, round and bottom round, flank steak, and arm roasts. Always go for 95% lean ground beef and avoid frozen burger patties that may contain 50% fat. As for pork, lean cuts are mostly found in the loin chops and bone-in rib chops.

Meats are considered lean if a serving of 3 ounces contains less than 4.5 grams of saturated fats, less than 10 grams of fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol. When buying beef, avoid that which is labeled "prime' as it contains the highest fat saturation, despite it being top grade. Beef graded as "select" or "choice" is usually the leanest, and hence the safest for consumption.

The Bottom Line

With this information, you are better placed to decide your rate of red meat consumption. Remember that it is not entirely about red meat, but how you consume it.

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