Chris Kresser: How to eat red meat without worrying about your health

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Adapted from article by Chris Kresser 16 April 2021

We seem to be told on a regular basis that eating red meat is bad for our health. Recent studies have clarified this stance somewhat.

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined both fresh and processed meat intake from almost 135,000 participants from 21 different countries.

They found no association with fresh red meat intake and the risk of early death, heart disease, cancer and stroke but did find a small association between processed meat consumption and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and death. A strength of the study is that they carefully matched the groups that ate more or less meat with each other so that they were similar in sex, age, body mass index, smoking and drinking.

Another study was a meta-analysis of 59 systematic reviews published in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism which examined the association of dietary fat intake and a variety of health outcomes.

They found no association with total fat, monounsaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and saturated fatty acids with risks of chronic diseases.

Since we don’t eat food in isolation, there could be important differences depending on whether you eat red meat in a dietary background of highly processed and refined foods or with a whole foods diet.

The contextual importance of meat as part of an overall dietary pattern is important and here are some information to explain this.

Some amines in meat have been shown to increase cancer risk but eating cruciferous vegetables and spices, and cooking meat at lower temperatures such as stewing or low temperature roasting, lowers amines too.

The increased absorption of iron from meat from the gut has also been flagged as a possible reason for excess cancer risk, but eating fruits and vegetables reduces iron absorption in the gut.

Eating vegetables with meat seems to have a protective effect against cancer. Thus eating a nutrient dense, whole foods diet with a broad variety of both animal and plant food is probably the best diet for the majority of the population. If you do choose to eat a lot of red meat or processed meat, keep cooking temperatures low if you can, and enjoy vegetables as part of your meal.

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