Higher intakes of red meat have been linked with a number of health problems, including type 2 diabetes. Research is showing that food processing is a key factor involved in the increase of risk.
Red meat in a pure form is a good source of protein and B vitamins and has been a key part of the human diet.
What is red meat?
Red meat is generally meat derived from farm reared mammals, such as:
Pork, ham and other cuts from pigs
Red meat is a popular food amongst those following a paleo diet, in which food choices are guided by judging which foods would have been available to our ancient ancestors.
Followers of a paleo diet will often try to seek food that is unprocessed and where the animals have been fed a natural diet.
Recommended intake of red meat
The Department of Health advises people to consume 90g or less of red meat per day. A thin slice of pork, lamb or beef the size of half a slice of bread provides about 30g of meat.
Red meat health benefits
Red meat is a rich source of protein, saturated fat, iron, zinc and B vitamins.
Iron is needed to help red blood cells transport oxygen. Iron deficiencies are more likely to occur in children, elderly people and pregnant women.
Iron is also available dark green leafy plants, beans and grains but is best absorbed by the body from red meat.
Zinc is required by the body for DNA synthesis and helps the immune system to function effectively.
As well being found in red meat, zinc is also found in fish, grains, eggs and beans.
However, zinc is best absorbed from meat and fish sources.
Amongst the B vitamins found abundantly in red meat are vitamin B6 and vitamin12. Vitamin B6 is beneficial for the immune system and vitamin B12 beneficial for the nervous system. People taking the diabetes drug metformin have an increased risk of having lower levels of vitamin B12.
Dangers of red meat
Consumption of red meat has been linked with increased incidences of heart disease, colorectal cancer and type 2 diabetes. The extent of the associations have found to be higher for processed red meat.
In 2011, a study by Harvard University made news headlines when it published a study which suggested that eating unprocessed meat was associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
The risk of diabetes was 20% higher in those that ate over 110g of unprocessed red meat a day. However, the research attracted some criticism for including hamburgers within the unprocessed foods list. Of those that ate a serving of processed meat, the risk of type 2 diabetes grew 50% higher
DISEASES ASSOCIATED WITH RED MEAT :
Processed red meat includes meat products that have been cured, pre-cooked, comminuted or had preservatives and binding ingredients added.
Cancer, type 2 diabetes, stroke, infections, and diseases of the kidneys, heart, respiratory tract, and liver all linked to red meat consumption.
Researchers from the National Cancer Institute in Maryland tracked the eating habits of 536,000 men and women between the ages of 50 to 71 for 16 years.
It is the largest study so far to link the consumption of both processed and unprocessed red meat to an increase in death rates from a total of eight different diseases.
The results, published in the British Medical Journal, revealed that people who ate the most red meat were 26 percent more likely to die of nine diseases than those who consume the least.
Heme iron, a type of iron only present in animal meat, may contribute to the risk of dying from cancer or heart disease.
Risk of death from cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, infections, kidney disease, liver disease or lung disease all increased with the amount of meat consumed, and those people with the highest meat
intake doubled their chances of dying from chronic liver disease.
A separate cohort study conducted by the Mayo Clinic last year also found similar results and caused the authors to recommend a plant-based diet:
“Given the findings, study scientists recommend that “physicians should encourage patients to limit animal products when possible, and substitute red meat and processed red meat with plant-based foods.”
Fortunately, a recent report showed that Americans ate 20 percent less meat in the last decade, and even the CEOs of major meat producers are seeing the need to move towards plant-protein, and have started making investments into plant-based startups.
Last year Google CEO Eric Schmidt predicted a plant-based revolution, with people moving away from meat to plant-based protein and with plant-based protein shown to be the better option for building muscle, fitness enthusiasts are increasingly moving away from animal protein to plant-based protein by ditching whey in favor of plant-based protein.