Is Meat Unhealthy? – Shedding Light On Meat Uncertainties

By Sheryl Eleazar | Last Updated February 1, 2013

“What you put in your mouth is not bad, but the things that come out from it”…is a cliché that can also apply to meat consumption. Before we give up on eating meat due to the claims and news we hear about it, let us first consider what great things meat can offer.

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cooked meat served with rice and vegetable on a plate

There are varying misconceptions about foods that many people are often left confused as to what they really should believe in and follow. One of these misconceptions is that meat (particularly red meat) is unhealthy.  However, let us not be biased in judging meat. There are actually a lot of different factors that must be considered before finally concluding that a food is indeed unhealthy for somebody to eat. To shed some light, below are some of the meat myths (that we are probably confused or worried about) and their respective meaty facts.

It Is Bad For Your Heart

The truth is that in spite of all the propaganda you have heard, the lipid hypothesis has never been proven. In fact, inadequate protein intake leads to loss of myocardial muscle and may, therefore, contribute to coronary heart disease. 1  

This idea roots from way back 1950s when American minds were taken hold by the lipid hypothesis. Back then, scientists were tackling with the excessive increase in heart disease cases such as those involving MI or Myocardial Infarction (immense blood clotting that obstructs a coronary artery, thereby resulting to the heart muscle’s death).  In 1910, MI was not particularly making a scene with only less than 3000 mortality a year, yet in 1960, this statistic record increased to a minimum of half a million a year.

The culprits that scientists are blaming are saturated fats and cholesterol from animal byproducts like beef and eggs. Their lipid hypothesis claimed that these culprits increase blood cholesterol levels that can produce obstructions in the arteries.

Regardless of what propaganda was launched concerning this theory, it still remained unconfirmed. As a matter of fact, if you avoid eating meat, you will have insufficient intake of protein that will lead to deficiency of myocardial muscles, a condition that is known to contribute to the occurrence of coronary heart disease.  Meat also contains amino acids like arginine and taurine that are udnerstood to help decrease blood pressure.

It Can Cause Cancer

At current levels of average consumption, there also is no evidence of a link to cancer…Cooking methods which overdo or char the meat are a much more likely cause of any link with bowel cancer… 2  

It is not easy not good to generalize studies on red meat and its link to cancer. This is because there can be different descriptions as to what composes red meat.  Amounts of fat in meat usually vary.  Some studies, in fact, include processed meat in the process.

the increased risk is small and red meat “is by no means a major risk factor for cancer”.  3  

The IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) meta-analysis in 2002 accounted that consumption of red meat above 120 grams a day produced a relative risk of 1.24 for bowel cancer. The relative risk produced by processed meat is 1.36. For a relative risk to be considered important, it has to be 2.0 or above. Thus, the risks posed by eating red meat and processed meat are too small, and absolutely not major cancer risks.  However, meat may only result to cancer if too much is consumed (about ten times in a week). Besides, other factors contribute to cancer development such as obesity and stress.

It Contains Just Saturated Fats

Red meat can make an important contribution to nutrient intakes in the diet.   It provides a number of essential nutrients, including protein, iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and vitamin D. 4  

There is more in meat than saturated fats that some people claim.  Meat is actually beneficial to one’s health if consumed appropriately. It is an ideal source of protein, which is vital for growth, repair and maintenance of the body. Dietary minerals such as Zinc and Iron are also found in meat as well as vitamins like B1 (or Thiamin), B2 (or Riboflavin), B3 (or Niacin) and B12 (or Cobalamin). Vitamin B12 can be obtained naturally only from animal-derived foods.

Red meat contains not just saturated fats, but also unsaturated fats.  It has omega-3 fatty acid (like those found in fish) that help maintain heart’s health, particularly advantageous for those who have already suffered from heart attack and survived.

Recommendation:

Consume lean meat in moderation. Excessive fat contents of meat may be trimmed by some cooking and preparation methods such as steaming and dry frying.

Name for

  • a sleeping bull : Bull-dozer
  • a cow with no front legs : Lean Beef
  • a cow without any legs : Ground Beef
  • a cow that is always grumpy : Moo-dy

It Is Not Good For Weight Loss

Lean red meat — lean being the operative word — is a great choice for women who are trying to shed pounds. 5  

From the 100 women tested and studied by Australian researchers, some overweight women who followed low calorie-high protein diet (including dairy and red meat) were able to lose more weight than those who followed low-calorie diet of reduced meat and additional carbohydrates.  Protein foods are generally more packed with nutrients than carbohydrates foods. They make you feel full longer, thus, they’re recommended for weight loss.

Recommendation:

It depends actually on the kind of meat you eat. Ideally, you need to consume lean meat, which is meat without fat marbled through the fibers, meat without fats and meat that is not cooked in fats.  Technically, meat that is considered lean contains less than 10 grams of total fat, not more than 4.5 grams of saturated fats and below 95 milligrams of cholesterol in a 3-ounce serving.

The leanest cuts of meats are those that have ‘loin’ in their names, such as sirloin and tenderloin. Also recommended are chuck shoulder steaks, eye/bottom round, flank steak, arm roast and filet mignon for beef. For pork its bone-in rib/loin chops and loin roast. For ground beef, choose those that are labeled minimum 95% leanness. Grass-fed beef is leaner compared to grain-fed ones.

A three to four times a week consumption of meat is still advisable. Bacon, ham, salami and other processed meats may still be moderately taken from time to time.

High-temperature cooking of any muscle meat, including red meat, poultry, and fish, can generate compounds in food that may increase cancer risk. They’re called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). 6   

These probable compounds that cause cancer can be avoided through proper preparations and cooking.  Again, lean meat must be chosen so that heavy smoke and flare-ups are reduced. Cook over indirect or medium heat since overly high heat can cause charring or overcooking. Overcooked meats have additional cancer-causing agents. However, short of overcooking it, make sure that meat is appropriately cooked to eliminate any possible bacteria. Consider marinating meat (in sugar-free marinades to prevent flare-ups) to lower HCA formation. Turn meat often to avoid burning one side.  Remove excess fat before cooking and burnt parts before eating.




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