Saturday, March 31, 2012

Red Meat: Friend or Foe?


No matter your involvement in the health and fitness field, I'm willing to bet that at some point in your life you've heard that red meat does nasty things to your body.  It has been claimed to increase mortality rate in all sorts of ways, including increased risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.  Those are some pretty hefty claims, all due to the good ol' moo cow.  But let's look at this a little more closely, and try to shed a light on red meat.  You may be surprised to discover that it's not the killer it's been made out to be.

Firstly, I know there have been many studies done on the correlation between red meat and increased mortality.  But every study I come across doesn't quite hold up to the claim that red meat is the actual reason the test subjects died an early death.  In fact, it's virtually impossible to prove that red meat is the reason for premature mortality.  Sure, it's associated.  But hey, if most of those test subjects were on the average American diet of fatty meat and high carb-loaded, chemical packed, sugary junk, then don't you think the latter might have had a bit to do with it?  And what about genetics?  There are just too many factors to blame it all on red meat.  Don't get me wrong, there's some bad red meat out there, but is all red meat inherently dangerous?  Heck no.  Let's look at what makes up the difference between healthy red meat, and the nasty crap.

First thing you should know.  When you eat an animal, you eat parts of what that animal has ingested.  You're getting a little taste of its diet history, and that may be good, or bad.  If you're eating venison, I wouldn't worry too much, as deer tend to have about the cleanest diets going.  If you're eating a cheap cut of beef though, I'd be a little wary, as most of the cheap stuff was fed feed corn and antibiotics on a daily basis in order to make the cows as big, meaty, and profitable as possible.  When fed corn, the cow puts on a lot of excess fat, which marbles (or interlaces) with the actual muscle, making the cuts absolutely delicious, but packed with saturated fat.  The antibiotics most cattle are given have two distinct purposes: First, they prevent the herd from contracting common diseases, and destroying profit.  Second, smaller doses actually cause the animal to gain weight, which INCREASES profit the farmer obtains at slaughter.  Cows are also given growth hormones which...well...cause growth.  All this equates to more meat and more money.


Unfortunately for us, these chemicals remain in the cuts of meat when we consume them, and they don't do our bodies any favor.  And THAT, my friend, is why red meat is bad for you.  There isn't any curse in the meat itself which causes health problems.  In fact, apart from the chemicals, red meat is actually very, very nutritious.

Protein:  Red meat is packed with protein, and has always been a favorite of the muscle building crowd.  In fact, lean ground beef is one of the most useful muscle building tools going.  A little less than a quarter pound of lean beef has about 25 grams of protein, which is pretty darn awesome.  Not to mention it's delicious, cheap, and readily available at almost any grocery store.  And to top it all off, the protein in red meat is very bioavailable, meaning your body can readily use that protein to rebuild muscle fibers with a high degree of efficiency.  Neat!

Vitamins and Minerals:  Surprisingly, red meat has a ton of vitamins and minerals that your body will love you for consuming.  It's extremely rich in B vitamins, and provides about 70% of the required value of B-12 in 100 grams.  It's also very rich in vitamin B-6, vitamin A, riboflavin, and niacin.  Red meat is also one of the best sources out there for both zinc and iron, and will provide about a quarter of the daily recommended value per serving.  Red meat is also extremely rich in selenium, providing about a fifth of the daily recommended value in one 100 gram helping.

Antioxidants:  That's right, red meat has antioxidants!  Actually, it's got a whole bunch, including generous amounts of glutathione, lipoic acid, carsonine, and anserine.  These substances have been proven to help maintain healthy blood sugar levels, act as "anti-aging" compounds, and help maintain healthy metabolic rate.

Fat:  Now you may think you know what's coming here, but prepare to be surprised.  Red meat doesn't just have saturated fat, in fact the majority of the fat in red meat is monounsaturated, and is of the same chemical construction as the healthy fats in olive oil.  It will lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise (HDL) cholesterol. The majority of the saturated fat in red meat is stearic acid, which will increase good cholesterol, but have no effect on bad cholesterol, resulting in only a small deficit in the "bad" direction.  The rest of the fat in red meat is polyunsaturated, and will lower bad cholesterol, and have no effect on good cholesterol.  All in all, about 70% of the fat in red meat is beneficial toward your desired cholesterol ratio.  Doesn't sound so bad, right?  Definitely not as bad as it's been made out to be.

So the real question is, how do you get all these health benefits without all the nasty hormones and fat associated with cheap cuts of beef?  What you need to look for in the grocery store is GRASS FED BEEF. Ground, grass fed lean beef is very low in unhealthy fats, packed with protein, and basically eliminates most of the marbled fat that exists within the meat itself.  Grass is a much healthier alternative for the cows, and by eating it the cows retain much less fat overall and build higher quality muscle.  The same can be said for pork, and you should look for grass fed, or pasture raised varities.  This will virtually ensure that the animal was healthier, and carrying less fat at the time of slaughter.

But wait, even if you choose a nice cut of grass fed meat, you're not out of the woods yet.  You should also make sure you look on the label for something like "no hormones" or "no antibiotics," to ensure you're getting meat WITHOUT all the nasty chemicals.  This will provide you with a healthy and fantastically delicious dinner which will definitely help you build some muscle and trim the fat.  Just be smart about your purchase, read the labels, know your red meat.

Here's a link to the FDA's list of labels that can be placed on food, and what you should look for depending on your goals:http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Factsheets/Meat_&_Poultry_Labeling_Terms/index.asp

Still scared of the myths you've heard about huge caloric content?  Let me brush that nonsense aside right now:


This is for lean, ground, grass fed beef.  Not bad at all.  I could fit that into so many diets I couldn't even come close to counting them all.  Don't be scared of red meat.

Hmmm...maybe I shouldn't have put this picture in...a little too cute...
Bottom line:  Red meat isn't inherently bad for you, and is in fact quite healthy in its natural state.  Don't be scared to eat it, and pay no attention to all the haters of red meat and all its glory.

Enjoy your food, love red meat, and as always, GOOD LUCK!


References:
http://www.eatthefatoftheland.com/red-meat.html
http://animalrights.about.com/od/animalsusedforfood/f/AntibioticsrGBH.htm
http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/the-truth-about-red-meat

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