Red meat, as you know, consists of a lot of minerals and vitamins that are important for a nutritious diet. In the recent years, the reputation of red meat has been in the fall, with several studies suggesting it as harmful to health.
But, is red meat bad for health?
Red meat refers to any meat that originates from mammalian muscle. This may include lamb, beef, veal, pork, goat, and, mutton.
For many households, red meat is considered a food staple, with some of us consuming beef, lamb, and pork in different variations on a daily basis.
According to a recent survey, an average person residing in the United States consumes about 106.6 pounds of red meat. This a huge reduction, considering the average consumption of 145.8 pounds as recorded in 1970.
Over the last decade, the consumption of red meat has been cut short by 10 pounds per individual. The question that arises here is that why are so many people cutting down on it?
A Shift toward Plant-based Foods
According to a U.S. poll conducted in 2016, more than 8 million individuals are vegan with animal welfare as the primary driving factor. However, it seems now that millions of us are turning towards plant-based foods mainly because we consider it healthier. About 37 percent of the U.S. individuals eat vegan meals when dining out, with 36 percent of them rendering health as the main reason.
A lot of studies have also indicated that a plant-based diet is a great way to achieve better health. A paper published in the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics claimed that a vegan diet could cause almost 62 percent reduction in the risk of diabetes type 2.
It also significantly cut downs the risk of stroke and heart attack.
Some scientists believe that it is not the health benefits of plant-based foods that are keeping us away from consuming red meat. In fact, it is the risks and the harms that may be caused due to the consumption of red meat.
What are these harms?
Cancer can be regarded as one of the most well-established health implications of red meat consumption.
The World Health Organization released a report that rendered red meat as “probably carcinogenic to humans” indicating that there is some piece of evidence linking both factors together.
The WHO further mentioned that processed meats, which have undergone processes like fermentation, curing, salting, and smoking, are “carcinogenic to humans”. The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Working Group pondered on almost 800 studies to assess the effects of red meat on cancer.
The study concluded that every 50-gram portion of meat, primarily including beef or pork, being consumed on a daily basis could cause an 18 percent increase in the risk of colorectal cancer.
Other evidence also suggested strong ties between the intake of red meat and the increased risk of pancreatic, colorectal, and prostate cancers. It has also been put forward that using high temperatures for cooking red meat is what primarily contributes to an increase in cancer risk.
As per the National Institute of Health (NIH), cooking red meat at higher temperatures increases the generation of heterocyclic amines (HCAs) as well as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), both of which increase the risk of cancer.
However, the WHO has also concluded in its report that the role of PAHs and HCAs about cancer is still unclear and warrants further research.
Kidney failure refers to a condition in which the kidneys are incapable of filtering water and waste products from the blood. The condition is said to hit more than 661,000 individuals in the United States alone.
Hypertension and diabetes are considered as the commonest causes of kidney failure, but red meat consumption has also been regarded as a significant reason in this regard.
A study published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology indicated that the consumption of red meat has a dose-dependent relationship with an increased risk of kidney failure. The participants of the study consuming red meat experienced a 40 percent increase in the risk of developing kidney failure.
Heart diseases are said to be the number one killer in the United States, accounting for about 610,000 deaths every year.
An unhealthful diet with high levels of cholesterol and saturated fat is a significant risk factor for heart disease. A study performed in this research concluded that consumption of 75 grams of red meat on a daily basis was exposed to 1.28 times greater risk of suffering from heart failure as compared to people who used it up to 25 grams daily.
Scientists belonging to the Columbia University in New York have also indicated that a compound known as L-carnitine found in red meat is converted into trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO) by out gut microbiome.
TMAO has also been indicated as a driving factor for atherosclerosis in mice, which can ultimately lead to stroke and heart attack
Diverticulitis is a problem in which inflammation develops in diverticula- the sac-like structures present along the colon wall. This inflammation can cause different complications such as peritonitis, perforation of the colon, and abscesses.
The specific reasons of diverticulitis are not clear yet. However, it has been hypothesized that a diet high in fibre content can markedly increase the risk of this problem.
A study recently published in a journal named Gut indicated that consuming red meat in high amounts can also elevate the risk of acquiring diverticulitis. The study compared two groups of men- the first in which all participants consumed high amounts of red meat, and the second in which the participants consumed it moderately. The group of men eating an excessive amount of red meat were found to develop an 8 percent higher risk of acquiring diverticulitis.
The risk was found to be the strongest with a greater intake of red meat, as per the researchers.
How much Red Meat should we Consume?
Despite a high number of evidence indicating the potential health disadvantages of red meat, it is important to consider that red meat consists of some extremely essential nutrients.
For example, consuming a 100-gram portion of raw beef fulfils almost 25 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin B-3 and 32 percent of zinc. Additionally, red meat is an extremely good source of iron, selenium, vitamin B-6 and some other essential minerals and vitamins.
The public health guidelines suggest limiting the consumption of red meat, according to the evidence to date. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends to consume up to 18 ounces of red meats every week to cut down the risk of cancer. At the same time, it suggests complete avoidance of the processed meats.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans has also recommended to cut back on red meat consumption without specifying a daily limit.
Given the latest evidence regarding the health risks of red meat, it is advisable to limit its consumption. However, the nutritional value of red meat must not be neglected. The benefits of risks of eating red meat must be balanced out to achieve the best possible health results.