Healthy or Heart-Clogging? Get the Skinny on Red Meat - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on November 04, 2014

Healthy or Heart-Clogging? Get the Skinny on Red Meat

Is Red Meat Healthy For You?

Call 1-800-254-3258 to schedule an
appointment with a dietitian or nutritionist.

For some people, there is nothing more satisfying than enjoying a perfectly cooked steak. But it seems like one day a study is reporting that red meat is good for you and the next day, a new study comes out saying the exact opposite.

Which is it? Will eating red meat increase your risk of health issues? Or does it have some nutritional value? The answer isn’t a clear-cut yes or no.

But for those meat lovers out there, here are the facts.

Red meats, including beef, pork and lamb, are generally high in cholesterol and saturated fat, which can raise your blood cholesterol levels. High levels of LDL, a.k.a. the “bad” cholesterol, may increase your risk of heart disease or worsen the condition if you already have it.

A National Cancer Institute study found that people who ate the most red meat were about 30 percent more likely to die of any cause during a 10-year period than were those who ate the least amount of red meat. Further, those who ate sausage, lunchmeats and other processed meats had an increased risk. Those who ate mostly poultry or fish had a lower risk of death.

There have been studies and claims made that red meat may cause cancer, but the verdict is still out on this. Some researchers say eating red meat does raise the risk, especially for colorectal cancer.

On the other hand, the meat industry asserts there’s no link between red meat, processed meats and cancer, and says that lean red meat can fit into a heart-healthy diet.

“Because of the nature of the human diet – variation from day to day and with many types of nutrients, it is impossible to conclude if red meat increases the risk of heart disease. We can only look at studies on overall diet pattern using observational studies and food frequency questionnaires. It appears that an overall diet pattern with a lot of fruits, vegetables, fish and poultry, and low in red meat (especially processed meat) decreases risk for heart disease and cancer,” said Crozer-Keystone nutritionist Sandra Vasquez.

But can something high in cholesterol and saturated fat really fit into a heart-healthy diet? According to the American Heart Association (AHA), yes.

Eating red meat is okay, but in moderation. The AHA recommends that people limit their intake of lean meat, as well as skinless chicken and fish, to less than 6-ounces per day.

Red meat might even provide you some immediate health benefits. It’s high in a type of iron that your body can easily absorb.

“Red meat is a great source of protein and many vitamins and minerals such as iron, B vitamins and zinc,” Vasquez said.

The B vitamins found in red meat helps make DNA and keeps your nerve and red blood cells healthy. The zinc in red meat helps keep your immune system working properly.

In order to incorporate red meat into your diet without sending your saturated fat and cholesterol levels through the roof, here are some tips:

  • One portion of meat is 3-ounces, which is about the size of a deck of cards
  • Trim off as much fat as you can before cooking and pour off the melted fat after cooking
  • Use healthier ways of cooking meat, including baking, broiling, stewing and grilling
  • Choose lean cuts of meat

The leanest cuts of red meat typically have the word “loin” in their name – sirloin tip steak, top sirloin, pork tenderloin and lamb loin chops to name a few. When it comes to beef, look for round steaks and roasts, including eye round and bottom round, chuck shoulder steaks, filet mignon, flank steak and arm roasts.

You should also check the nutrition label, especially on frozen burger patties – some contain as much as 50 percent fat. When you pick out ground beef, it should be at least 95 percent lean.

In addition to the label, you can refer to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s grading to ensure you’re only buying the leanest cuts of beef. If beef is labeled as “prime,” it means that it’s the top grade but that it’s also highest in fat. This type of beef will have marbling, or small bits of fat throughout the meat – this adds flavor and tenderness. Sorry, we’re steering you away from that. Instead, look for beef that is graded as “choice” or “select,” which are the leanest.

When it comes to pork, the leanest types include loin roasts, loin chops, and bone-in rib chops.

Vasquez said there’s one more thing you should look for at the label of the meats you pick out.

“Grass fed meats are higher in quality and good fats and they also taste better. So it’s worth the extra coast. You should definitely limit processed meats and charred and blackened meats you eat,” she said.

Crozer-Keystone Nutrition Counseling

You can learn how to eat healthy meals and improve your overall health at the Crozer-Keystone Nutrition Counseling and Medical Nutrition Therapy center. Call 1-800-CK-HEALTH (1-800-254-3258) to request an appointment with a registered dietician.

Related Locations

eNewsletter Signup

Our eNewsletters from Crozer-Keystone Health System help keep you up-to-date on your health and well being. View recent editions or sign up to receive our free eNewsletters.