Meat has become more and more controversial of late.
Some say its damaging effects are on par with smoking, and others even claim we should apply a special “health tax” on meat-eaters.
The contrarians say meat has a number of positive health benefits, very few downsides, and most of the research showing otherwise is on low-quality processed meats.
And others take a middle-of-the-road outlook and say meat might cause some health problems in large amounts, but it’s healthy in moderation.
Looking at the scientific evidence only further muddies the waters.
If you look online, you’ll find some studies that seem to show meat is bad for you, some studies that show it’s benign, and others that seem to show it’s good for you.
In the past few years, though, the pendulum of public opinion has swung hard in the “meat is bad for you” direction, largely thanks to several position statements from major health authorities.
Well, the short answer is meat probably isn’t as bad for you as many news outlets claim, and reducing your intake of meat probably won’t make a big difference in your health.
That said, it’s also fair to say eating as much processed or fatty meat as you want probably isn’t good for you, either.
Ready for the long answer?
Let’s kick things off by looking at exactly what meat is, then we’ll get into the case for and against eating it.
4:25 – What is lean and processed red meat?
4:40 – Should I be eating red meat?
Mentioned on The Show:
What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Hello, my fellow fit person. Welcome to another episode of Most For Life. I’m Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today to talk about red meat and if it’s bad for you, what the current weight of the evidence is. And this has been a controversial topic. Several years now. I first wrote and spoke about the research on red meat consumption probably three years ago or so, and the debate has only gotten more heated since, especially with the rise of the carnivore diet, which is a silly diet by the way, if you want to hear my thoughts on that, just search my podcast Feed for carnivore and you’ll find an episode I recorded some time ago now, probably a year or year and a half ago, but I still stand by every word.
Podcast. I did review the article in which it is based recently and really don’t have anything to change regarding my position on the carnivore diet. But then of course, on the other side of the coin, you have the plant-based fanatics who claim that eating any red meat whatsoever is about as healthful as smoking or drinking.
A lot of. And then of course you have many people who are still in the middle who assume that meat is okay if it is consumed in moderation, and who wouldn’t believe that it is as beneficial as the carnival crowd would say, or as harmful as the vegan crowd would claim. Now as usual, as often happens in the health and fitness space, much of the confusion is driven by the media’s sensationalism and misinterpretation of research.
And in this podcast, I’m gonna give you an unbiased crash course in the current weight of the evidence on. Red meat consumption and explain why I believe the most scientifically accurate interpretation is that red meat is almost certainly not as bad as many news outlets or influencers or gurus would have you.
Leave and therefore going out of your way to reduce your red meat intake is probably not going to do very much for your health. That said, the evidence also suggests that eating as much highly processed and very fatty red meat as you might want, if you love stuff like sausages and hot dogs and baloney and bacon and so forth, is probably not a good.
That is probably not good for your health. Also, if you like what I am doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, definitely check out my sports nutrition company Legion, which thanks to the support of many people like you, is the leading brand of all natural sports supplements in the world, and we’re on top.
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All right. Let’s start this discussion with a quick definition of the term meat, because technically it refers to animal flesh of any kind. So it could be animals that live in the water or on the land or that fly through the air. But as far as the meat debate goes, really what people are concerned, Is red meat.
Beef should you be eating this stuff? Now, in November of 2019, a team of 14 researchers led by Dalhousie University epidemiologist Bradley Johnston, published five different systematic. Reviews that concluded that there are no good health reasons for people to reduce their consumption of red meat and processed red meat.
And this caused a bit of an uproar because it flew in the face of most of the official recommendations from health and nutrition organizations. For example, in 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer announced it had classified processed meat. Carcinogenic to humans.
You probably saw those headlines back then, and red meat of any kind as probably carcinogenic to humans. Furthermore, the American Heart Association, which is the US Government’s Dietary Guidelines Panel, the American Cancer Society, and the World Cancer Research Fund, have long recommended that people limit their consumption of red meat and process.
Red meat in particular, and as if all that were not enough. There also are many studies that have been published over the last couple of decades that indicate that eating more red meat and more processed red meat in particular may increase the risk of breast cancer as well as death from all. Causes.
Now, why did Johnston’s findings differ? His research took a different approach in looking at this question different than much of the research that was done previously. Instead of examining. Every study that has been done on the topic or large groups of studies that include ones with dubious methodologies and potentially biased results.
Johnston and his team limited their research to cohort studies and randomized controlled. Trials. In other words, Johnston and his team focused their analysis on the best available evidence to see if that total different story than previous analyses of the entire body of evidence or large portions of the body of evidence that included.
A lot of noise. Now, the research reviews produced by Johnston and his colleagues are not the final say in the matter. They don’t conclusively prove that you can eat as much red meat and as much processed red meat as you want with absolutely nothing to worry about with no potential health consequences.
That said, because research reviews and meta analysises. Are at the top of the hierarchy of evidence. They are the strongest form of scientific evidence that we are able to produce. These reviews do offer strong evidence that the claims against eating red meat have been overblown. These reviews.
Definitely support the idea that consuming red meat, any type of red meat really in moderation is fine. And that’s not surprising really, because red meat is a very nutritious food. It contains a lot of high quality protein. For example, high biological value. Our body’s able to use a lot of the protein that comes from red meat.
Red meat contains vitamin b12. It contains niacin, b6, it contains minerals. Iron, zinc, and phosphorus. It contains omega-3 fatty acids. It has some vitamin D. Sometimes it’s pretty low in fat. It is fairly low in sodium. It contains other bioactive substances like Toine Carine, creatine, and others. As far as protein sources go, red meat is a nutri.
Powerhouse and that’s why it’s been shown to help suppress appetite, to boost metabolism, to speed up fat loss, and muscle building to improve bone density and health and more. Now, of course, not all of those benefits are direct benefits. You can’t just eat steak and lose fat, but you can eat steak and be full.
For longer per calorie than if you had eaten something else, for example. And that can help you lose fat because you’re gonna be able to stick to your diet better. And the same thing goes with the metabolic boost. What we’re talking about here, of course, is the thermic effect of food. The energy that it costs to digest and process and absorb the food that we eat.
Red meat has a high thermic effect of food. It costs a fair amount of energy to process this stuff. It costs a lot more. To process a steak, for example, than the equivalent number of calories in, let’s say, white pasta. Now, if you are willing to accept the premise that eating red meat in moderation is probably fine and that there are immediate nutritional benefits to doing so, of course you’re wondering how much.
How much is okay, and how much is too much, and so forth. Unfortunately, science hasn’t given us a cut and dried answer yet. However, the UK’s National Health Service, NHS and the World Cancer Research Fund recommend an upper limit of 500 grams of cooked red and processed red meats. That’d be together per week, and that might sound like a lot, but it’s really the equivalent of a couple eight ounce steak.
Or one large hamburger and maybe a few pieces of pot roast per week. Something else you should keep in mind is that recommendation lumps together all red meat, whether it is not very processed or very processed. So that’s the difference between, let’s say, making yourself a 90 10 ground sirloin hamburger at home and eating a pile of bacon or sausage or maybe.
Cured, again, more processed type of red meat. And this is probably inappropriate to combine these things because most of the research that has shown that red meat does pose a health risk, really has shown that these highly processed red meats pose a health risk, certainly a greater health risk.
Relatively unprocessed red meat, which is probably the red meat that you like to eat. If you’re listening to this podcast, I’m assuming, for example, if you eat red meat regularly or if you would like to eat red meat more regularly, or even just occasionally you’re thinking about having a homemade hamburger or maybe a steak or maybe something a little bit leaner like a New York strip or a filet minn.
Or maybe a pot roast or maybe some tenderloin and so forth. Eating like a responsible adult, not eating like an asshole. And that is very different than eating the highly processed stuff. And so when we are looking at what the scientific literature can tell us about red meat consumption, we do need to make that distinction.
We do need to understand that when a study is looking at the consumption of highly processed red meat, the findings will not necessarily apply. All types of red meat. Why? Firstly, if you are eating the healthier stuff, your saturated fat intake is going to be lower. If you just pull up your favorite calorie counting website real quick and look at the fat content of sausage, for example, versus 90 10 ground beef, and look at the saturated fat content and you will quickly understand what I’m talking about.
And that’s important because while saturated fat is not bad for you, you do need to include a certain amount in. It having too much is likely going to raise your risk of heart disease. It does not have this effect in all people, but it does in many people. If you eat too much saturated fat, your LDL quote unquote bad cholesterol levels are going to rise, and that is going to raise your risk of heart disease, and that’s why I still stand.
The standard recommendation among cardiologists and nutrition researchers and experts around the world that you should limit your saturated fat intake to no more than 10% of your daily calories. If you do that, you’ll give your body enough saturated fat for its health needs, and you will not increase your risk of heart disease.
If you have a lot more than that, you will give your body enough it needs for health reasons, but you may increase your risk of heart disease. Another problem with processed red meat products is they contain chemicals called nitrates and nitrates, which have been shown in research to be associated with different types of cancer.
And these chemicals are in the food to prevent the growth of bacteria and to add a salty flavor. And speaking of salt, processed red meat carries a lot more sodium than unprocessed red meat, which can raise. The risk for hypertension, stroke, and heart attack. And so we have a pretty good understanding of why we should limit our intake of these foods, why we should not eat too much of them.
Maybe we don’t need to stay away from them all together because take something like alcohol, it is a poison. It is not good for the body. But research shows the current weight of the evidence is moderate. Drinking mild to moderate drinking is probably. Not harmful to your health. And so if you like to drink some alcohol now and then you can do it without worrying that you are skyrocketing your risk of disease and dysfunction.
And so something similar can be said of processed red meats. If you really like to have a hotdog now and then have a hot dog now and then it is not gonna be a problem. However, if you were eating a pile of hot dogs every day, I would. It’s time to grow up. It’s time to eat. Like you give a shit, like you want to be around for at least a little while, and so let’s take the hot dogs and let’s replace them with stuff like unprocessed red meat, poultry, fish, Poultry and fish, by the way, are also very nutritious and are not controversial whatsoever.
Maybe some dairy protein as well, Also very nutritious. My favorite is skier, S K Y R, which is ice. Protein, and not because I want to sound pretentious, but because it is delicious, Think Greek yogurt, but less bitter and more creamy and better macros. Trust me, if you like Greek yogurt, Try skier. I think it is the ultimate high protein yogurt hack, and if you wanna make it even more protein rich, you can mix protein powder into it, which is super delicious.
I mix Legion Protein, of course, , and these days what I’m doing is I’ll have skier on Saturday and Sunday. And I’ll eat it around 11 or 12. It’s my first real meal of the day. I’m just skipping breakfast on the weekends because I’m not as active. I’m not lifting, I’m not burning as many calories, and so I’ll have a coffee in the morning with some milk in it, so I’m not fasting per se, but I don’t have my first real meal until around noon or so.
And what I’ll do is I’ll do about 40 grams of protein from ice. Provisions plain Iceland provisions is the brand that I get. There is a, another brand that I think actually tastes a bit better, newer N O R organics, but it’s not always in stock at the local Whole Foods. However, Iceland provisions always is.
I take the plane and I’ll put about 40 grams of protein, which is two of the smaller packages or about half of a bigger package, and I’ll put two scoops of protein. So it’s a lot of protein. It’s about 80 grams in one sitting, and these days I’ve been mixing legion cereal, cinnamon. Way with legion plant plus vanilla or sometimes chocolate.
And I’ll do one scoop of each and it’s super delicious. I really like the taste and the mouth feel. It reminds me of eating like a high protein frosting almost. And so anyway, that’s my first real meal of the day, or at least my first real serving of protein. If I’m making pancakes for my kids, I’m going to eat some of the pancakes as well.
But I’m not eating much until. Around noon. Oh, and as far as pancakes go, Birch Benders Classic. I’ve tried quite a few pancake mixes. I’m a pancake snob and I’ve been unable to beat Birch Bender Classic. If you’re into pancakes, give it a try. Let me know what you think, and if you have something that is better than that, I definitely want to know.
Email me [email protected]. And so anyway, getting back on track. You also are going to get protein from vegetables and whole grains if you are eating a fair amount. And that brings me to another point, is that a lot of the research that has been done on red meat consumption of any kind and how it may or may not impact our health has been done with.
Sedentary people, many of whom are following a nutritionally bankrupt standard western diet, which is full of all kinds of highly processed foods. And of course, people who don’t exercise and don’t eat well often have other unhealthy habits like smoking and drinking. And of course, researchers can try to control for these types of confounding variables.
That only works so well. The scientific method is not a crystal ball, unfortunately, and observational research is very useful, but it is also relatively low in the hierarchy of evidence. It shows that there are potential relationships. It cannot establish causation, and it’s really meant to add texture to the ongoing conversation and to guide further research ultimately, clinical trials.
That then can be grouped together and analyzed in systematic reviews and meta-analyses. And in this case, we can’t do the clinical trials. We would really need to establish a strong scientific opinion on the matter because it would never pass an ethics board. You can’t recruit a bunch of people and have one group eat a bunch of food that maybe carcinogenic is definitely unhealthy for a while, just so we can see what happens.
And so science is a bit hamstrung on the matter. Now, that’s not to say it is completely cut off at the knees. No, there is a large and growing body of evidence and scientists have done a good job teasing out the subtleties and the differences between, let’s say, Unprocessed red meat and processed red meat, for example, as well as other lifestyle factors that should have been weighted more heavily in previous research.
And if nothing else, I would say that the research has shown that at least we don’t have a good reason to be alarmed if we are eating moderate amounts of red meat, probably of any kind, but certainly of. Unprocessed variety, and that is especially true for those of us who are healthy and fit and active and not overweight because the majority of the data that we have on red meat consumption and how it may or may not impact health involved analyzing the lives of.
Sedentary people, many of whom are following a nutritionally bankrupt standard western diet that is full of all kinds of very processed foods. And it would be wrong to assume that effects that are seen in those people will be the same in us because our body works a lot better than theirs and is at a lot lower risk of all kinds of disease and dysfunction, and our body will deal.
Toxins and poisons and other nasties a lot more effectively than theirs will. And yes, you’ll find your exception, your rare exception, any rule has an exception. But that is going to be generally the case. And if we look to the scientific literature, there’s just not much data on how healthy or unhealthy it may be for people like us to eat a bunch of red meat, let alone a moderate or a low amount of red.
If I were a Benton man, I would say that if we do get this data one day, the risk factors are going to be dramatically lower than those that are seen in the average American.
If you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, definitely check out my sports nutrition company Legion, which thanks to the support of many people like you, is the leading brand of all natural sports supplements in the world. All right, so where does all this leave us? Let’s wrap up with some simple, practical takeaways.
So there’s no clear, upper or lower limit for how much meat you should be eating. However, it’s probably a good idea to eat a variety of types of meat. So include fish in your diet, particularly fatty fish. Salmon is a great go-to if you like salmon, include some poultry, maybe some pork, as well as some red meat instead of just red meat.
Don’t. Three servings of red meat every day. Have maybe just one serving every day if you really want to have it every day, or mix it up one day, do some chicken, maybe the next day, do some seafood, some fish, and the next day do some red meat, and the next day you could go to pork or just go back to chicken.
Or you could do what I like to do, which is I generally will have no red meat throughout the week. Sometimes I will cook some hamburgers to put. Lunch salads, so I’ll have one serving per day, but most weeks I’m doing no red meat throughout the week. And then I’ll have a steak on Friday and a steak on Saturday.
I’ll grill some steaks cuz my kids like to either have grilled steak or grilled hamburger depending on their whims, their moods, and I’ll make a steak for me as well. It’s usually a New York strip because I don’t really care for the extra calories of the rib eye, even though it is tastier, because of course it is fat.
Which is a good segue to my next point, which is it is probably best to prioritize lean cuts of red meat over fatty cuts, especially if you are eating it several times per week. And that’s really just to keep your saturated fat intake down to no more than 10% of your total daily calories on. Average, and it’s probably also best to minimize your intake of the more processed types of red meats I’ve been talking about.
And really just focus on eating the fresh stuff, the minimally processed stuff. That said, if occasionally you want to have something that’s processed, you want to have some bacon in the morning, or you want to have some deli meat, ham on a sandwich or on a salad, or you want to have some sausage for dinner, sure fine, but just don’t make it a regular.
Thing. For me personally, my intake of processed red meat is nil, Really? Because I don’t really like those foods. If I want red meat, I want a hamburger, or I want a steak, and a pot roast can be good. I haven’t done one in a while, but that actually can be good. Maybe I’m gonna do a pot roast now. And lastly, my final tip is regardless of how much meat you are or are not, Please do make sure that you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and whole grains because those foods, those plant-based foods are the foundation of a nutritious diet.
If you are not eating a couple of servings of fruit, and let’s say four to six servings of vegetables and at least one serving. Whole grains every day you have room to improve. And if you are not eating anywhere close to that, you have a lot of room to improve. And if you want to do everything you can with food to nourish your body and to enhance not just your health, but also your performance.
Because the body just runs better when it’s getting all of the nutrition it needs. And if you also want to maximize longevity, if you want to minimize the chances of catastrophe striking you in your later years, you want to eat well now, you can’t neglect your health nutrition for a long period of time until it finally manifests as disease or disorder.
And then think that you can quickly. Turn the boat around and get back to where you were many years ago. You really could think about it like you’re in a little paddle boat on a river and you’ve been going down this river for a long time and you no longer want to go down the river because there’s a big waterfall coming up and you start to panic because there’s no shore to paddle two, and now the river is picking up steam and your only option is to turn around.
Paddling upstream, and that is much harder to do at 40, 50, 60 years old than at 20 or 30 years old. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, though. It is never too late to get into great shape and great health, but it takes work. It takes discipline. It takes. Patience. It takes consistency. And so if you want to make your journey as enjoyable as possible, and if you are not excited at the idea of gambling with your health, if you would rather take calculated risks elsewhere in life, then you just need to make sure that you are good enough most of the time that you are eating.
Most of the time that you are sticking to your workout routine, most of the time that you are sleeping well, most of the time, limiting your alcohol intake. Most of the time you don’t have to be perfect or even try to be perfect. You don’t have to feel guilty when you slip up. We all slip up, we all have lapses.
That is part of the game. It does not say anything about. Us as people. It just says that sometimes the circumstances are such that we eat a bit more than we wanted to, or we exercised a bit less than we wanted to, or slept a bit less than we wanted to. And that’s okay because in the end, all that really matters is that we get to our goal.
How we get there and how flawlessly we executed our plan is not very important. It’s just important. Get there. I’ll write muscle for lifers. I am going to wrap up on that note and make sure to keep an eye on the podcast feed because here’s a little sneak peek of what I have coming for you. Over the next week or so.
I have a monologue on how fast you can safely lose. Fat. So if you have a lot of weight to lose, you definitely are gonna wanna listen to that one. And if you don’t have a lot of weight to lose, I think you will still find it interesting, especially the research that I’m gonna be talking about on how much fat can we really lose every day before we start losing muscle.
For example, I also have an episode coming on four evidence-based ways to. Procrastinating, which of course is helpful in our health and fitness, but also in our productivity and other areas of our life, as well as an episode coming on the best exercises for low back pain. And I can tell you firsthand, low back pain sucks.
Fortunately I haven’t had it in a while, but I have in the past. It started with some SI joint dysfunction that kicked in after some heavy deadlifting, and then it turned out that SI joint was not happy because my internal rotation of my hip on my left side was not nearly as good as it should have been, and I didn’t know it at the time, but I found out later that the relationship between lack of internal rotation and SI joint dysfunction is actually well established in the literature and one of the simple little things, That I implemented a couple of years ago that has helped a lot.
So much so that I have not had any major SI joint issues since then, is just daily stretching to improve the internal rotation on my left side. And it was pretty pathetic in the beginning and now it’s pretty good and it has definitely manifested in a more functional SI joint. All right. That’s it for this episode.
I hope you enjoyed it and found it interesting and helpful. And if you did and you don’t mind doing me a favor, please do leave a quick review on iTunes or wherever you’re listening to me from in whichever app you’re listening to me in. Because that not only convinces people that they should check out the show, it also increases search.
Ability, and thus it helps more people find their way to me and learn how to get fitter, leaner, stronger, healthier, and happier as well. And of course, if you want to be notified when the next episode goes live, then simply subscribe to the podcast and you won’t miss out on any new stuff. And if you didn’t like something about the show, please do shoot me an email at mike muscle for life.com.
Just muscle o r life.com and share your thoughts on how I can do this better. I read everything myself, and I’m always looking for constructive feedback, even if it is criticism. I’m open to it and of course you can email me if you have positive feedback as well, or if you have questions really relating to anything that you think I could help you with, definitely send me an email.
That is the best way to get ahold of me, Mike, at muscle life.com. And that’s it. Thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you soon.
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