This year for Lent, I am giving up red meat. It is also something I have been considering giving up for the rest of my life.
I’ve actually been thinking a lot about changing my diet in general. Although I am a runner and I try to eat healthy when I can, I drink like a fish and eat uncontrollably when I’m out. I have some health issues in my family history that I’d like to avoid. Plus I can’t depend on my freakishly high metabolism forever. I like to eat and I hate to throw up so at this point, a diet change is my only option to stay skinny. Welp.
So over then next few months, I’ll be posting about health and what’s good for you and what’s not. I’m tired of not knowing why I use Splenda instead of the blue pack or pink pack (or just regular ol’ sugar).
Side note: I promise to use seriously credible sources. There will be no wikipedia references when it comes to my health. Who knows what people put on that damn site sometimes.
What makes red meat “red”?
Meat is muscle. Makes sense, right? When an animal dies, muscle undergoes a transformation and becomes what we call meat. And the type of muscle it is determines whether that meat is red or white.
“Red meat” is meat that’s a reddish color before cooking, like beef, venison and ostrich (yikes). “White meat” is very pale before cooking and includes chicken, turkey and pork.
The primary defining factor in whether animals are white meat or red meat is whether their muscles are mostly fast-twitch or mostly slow-twitch. Slow-twitch muscles are used often, for extended activities like constant walking, standing or flying. It has a lot of the protein myoglobin, which stores large amounts of oxygen to support this long-term energy use. Myoglobin is reddish in color, sort of like hemoglobin in blood, which is why red meat can look so bloody. Ostriches, like cows, spend most of their time standing and walking. Even ostrich wings get a lot of exercise, since they play such a central role in steering. Ostrich muscles are mostly the slow-twitch kind. Slow-twitch muscle is red meat.
Chickens and turkeys, on the other hand, don’t use their muscles as much. Most of their muscle mass is the fast-twitch kind, used for short bursts of activity, like a quick jump into the air that constitutes most of their flying. Fast-twitch muscles use glycogen for energy — there’s not much myoglobin there. Glycogen is pale in color. Fast-twitch muscle is white meat.
Why is red meat bad for you?
A recent 10-year study, the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC), found that guys (and girls) who eat just 10 oz (283 g) of red meat a week are more likely to develop colon cancer than guys who don’t.
Cardiovascular disease & cancer
In a study that concluded in 2009, a research team led by Rashmi Sinha, Ph.D., from the National Cancer Institute in Rockville, Maryland, looked at more than 500,000 people who were aged 50 to 71 when they enrolled in the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health study.
Over a 10-year period, people who ate the most red meat every day (about 62.5 grams per 1,000 calories per day, equal to a quarter-pound burger or small steak per day) had about a 30 percent greater risk of dying compared with those who consumed the least amount of red meat (a median of 9.8 grams per 1,000 calories per day). The excess mortality was mostly the result of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
In addition, those who ate the largest amounts of processed meat (defined as about 22.6 grams per 1,000 calories per day of bacon, red-meat sausage, poultry sausage, cold cuts, ham, regular hot dogs, and low-fat hot dogs) also had a slightly higher mortality risk than those who consumed the least.
In contrast, people who ate the most white meat seemed to have a slightly lower mortality risk during the study than those who consumed the least amount of white meat. White meat included chicken, turkey, and fish, as well as some poultry products and canned tuna.
The researchers estimate that 11 percent of deaths in men and 16 percent of deaths in women during the study could have been prevented by reducing consumption of red meat.
Blood Pressure Risk
Even though heme iron can reduce the risk of anemia, it may also have a negative effect. Researchers from the “British Journal of Medicine” tested 4,680 adults who consumed varying amounts of red meats for their blood pressure levels. The results of the study showed that the more red meat a participant ate, the higher that person’s blood pressure rose. High blood pressure levels can lead to serious health problems like strokes.
Type of Red Meat
Unprocessed red meats include beef and pork, without any additives. Processed forms of red meat include bacon, sausages and deli meats like salami. MayoClinic.com explains that processed red meats have an average of 622 mg of sodium per 2 oz. serving, while unprocessed red meat has only 155 mg. This high amount of sodium, combined with additives like nitrates, in processed red meats may damage blood vessels and reduce the body’s ability to control blood glucose, according to MayoClinic.com.
Why is red meat good for you?
One of the strongest health benefits of eating red meat is the heme iron that it contains. Iron is an essential nutrient that transports oxygen through the blood to the cells where it is needed. Without enough iron in the diet, you can become anemic, feel weak and even have a low immune system function. There are two types of iron: heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is absorbed better in the body and is thus more usable. The Ask the Dietitian website states that heme iron is only found in animal products, of which red meat is the best source.
Another benefit of eating red meat is the protein. Protein helps the body by providing energy and strengthening the muscles. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s nutrient database, each ounce of flank steak with the fat trimmed off has 7.7 g of protein, and a small hamburger beef patty has about 15 g of protein.
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s perspective
Beef offers protein and other essential nutrients. The National Cattlemen’ Beef Association also offers information on their website on how lean cuts of beef to reduce the amount of saturated fat eaten.
In a statement, Shalene McNeill, PhD, RD, executive director of human nutrition research for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, says: “As is often the case with epidemiological research on this subject, it is hard to draw substantial conclusions about any one food.” She said the study (referring to one mentioned above about cardiovascular disease and cancer) was complicated by the fact that participants had unhealthy behaviors such as smoking and lack of exercise.
The cons outweigh the pros on this one.
Side note: While researching this topic, one of my main questions was “what exactly is considered ‘red meat’”? I found all types of answers. I thought red meat to be beef and I thought pork was debatable since ham is pink (its a reach, I know). Some websites listed beef, pork, lamb, and game (idk what that is) as red meat. Some listed beef and processed meats as red meat. So officially, for Lent, I am removing beef, pork, lamb, and venison (as if I’ve had that more than once in my life - but in case it becomes an option, I will say “no thank you”) from my diet.