Re-thinking red meat: what’s the beef?

By Perrin Braun, August 1, 2022


Do you enjoy an occasional hamburger? Many people love the taste of red meat, but wonder if it’s healthy.  During the past few years, red meat has received some bad press, but there’s conflicting data out there about its benefits and drawbacks. So, what’s a full-blooded carnivore to do? Rethinking-red-meat-what's-the-beef


If you include red meat in your diet, InsideTracker’s Food Basket page can help you ensure that you’re fueling your body with healthy foods that match your unique dietary preferences and needs. Conversely, if you are looking to find some delicious alternatives to red meat, InsideTracker has got you covered, too. Click here to view a free demo of the InsideTracker program. Whether you eat red meat or not, how will your food choices affect your body? Your InsideTracker blood analysis measures key biomarkers. And now InsideTracker has introduced the Home Kit, an innovative and affordable product, that makes it easy for you to collect blood samples at home. Using the Home Kit, you can collect a few drops of blood and return the sample in the prepaid mailer to measure 6 basic biomarkers, including cholesterol, HDL, LDL, triglycerides, glucose and ALT (a marker of liver health). The Home Kit is so easy to use that you can measure your progress monthly, and adjust your diet, exercise, supplement, and lifestyle choices to optimize your well-being and performance.

Click here to learn how InsideTracker can help you incorporate red meat into a healthy diet!

What are the benefits of red meat?

Red meat contains some important nutrients—it’s very high in iron, which plays an important role in ensuring wellness and optimizing physical performance. Iron is an essential mineral that is a part of the protein hemoglobin, which is found in all the body’s red blood cells. Hemoglobin works to supply the muscles and other organs with enough oxygen, as well as to help the body to convert carbohydrates and fat into energy. Maintaining optimal levels of iron is important for athletes and non-athletes alike because iron plays the following important roles in the body:

Synthesizes protein Maintains the health of hair and skin Fights infection and preserves the body’s immune system Helps to create energy

In addition to iron, red meat is high in vitamin B12, a vitamin that aids with brain and nervous system function and the formation of blood; and in zinc, which keeps your immune system working properly. Red meat provides a great source of protein too, an important nutrient. Protein is broken down into amino acids that assist with everything from digesting food to repairing body tissue in the body.

What are the drawbacks of red meat?

The fact is that the typical western diet is very high in red meat. What are the problems with this?  First, like butter and other animal products, red meat is high in saturated fat. The dangers of this type of fat are fairly contentious among the scientific community. We have been conditioned to believe that increased intakes of saturated fat can lead to heart disease and increased cholesterol. However, a recent meta-analysis reviewed several studies with a combined total of over one million subjects and found that processed meats were associated with heart disease, but red meat was not. This study shows that preservatives used in processed meats or other unhealthy dietary patterns could play an important role in increasing the risk for heart disease. Despite this evidence, the relatively high fat content in red meat remains a fairly controversial topic, and many people with heart disease are still advised to steer clear of red meat. 

In addition, there is an increasing body of evidence that a substance in red meat called L-carnitine is linked to heart disease. A 2013 study done in mice found that the L-carnitine in red meat helps to transport fatty acids into your body’s cells. After it is eaten, L-carnitine is converted into another compound called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), which is believed to be a valid predictor of poor heart health. The study also found that people who tend to eat a lot of red meat are more efficient at converting L-cartnitine to TMAO than those who don’t often partake, which suggests that people should cut down on their intake of red meat. It is important to remember, however, that this study was conducted in mice and therefore may not apply to humans. Furthermore, scientists note that l-carnitine also plays an important role in helping to convert fat into energy, so it is not necessary to eliminate it from your diet completely. More research is needed to determine safe levels of dietary l-carnitine, but we do know that one serving of red meat contains up to 94 mg, while cheese and milk contain only about 3 mg per serving.

The use of drugs in raising animals for meat production is another potential problem with consuming red meat. Animals raised for their meat sometimes receive antibiotics or hormones to prevent bacterial diseases or help increase growth. While these drugs must be discontinued prior to slaughter, trace amounts may remain in the meat. If you’re going to eat red meat, the safest bet is to choose organic, grass-fed meats because it will reduce your exposure to the drugs that are often used in commercial meat production.

Better meat choices

If you choose to eat red meat, remember that some options are healthier than others. Here’s a handy guide to making the best choices when you’re at the supermarket:

Beef – Choose the leanest cuts. If possible, try to pick beef that has under 10 grams of fat with less than 4 grams of saturated fat per 4 ounce serving. The leanest cuts are from the loin, and many people enjoy the tenderloin because it is so tender. Flank steak has only about 6 grams of fat per serving, so it’s also a great choice. For those of you who like to eat ground beef, a good rule of thumb is to look at the color. The redder it is, the better, because the higher fat content will make ground beef have a pinkish appearance. Purchase lean ground beef, which is no more than 10% fat by weight, or extra-lean ground beef, which is no more than 5% fat by weight. Remember though that this percentage is different from the percentage of calories from fat. In lean ground beef, about 50% of the calories are from fat. And in extra lean ground beef, about a third of the calories are from fat. 

Lamb – Americans love their lamb chops, but they’re also pretty high in fat. Even when trimmed to 1/8-inch of fat, 4 ounces of lamb chops still contain roughly 383 calories and 34 grams of fat, of which 15 grams is saturated fat. Instead of lamb chops, try lamb shoulder. Shoulder steaks are leaner and only contain 148 calories in a 4 ounce serving, with 6 grams of fat and 2 grams of saturated fat.

Pork – according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the “other white meat” is actually red meat! Pork tenderloin is the best option because it’s juicy and very lean. Center cut loin pork chops are very low in fat and calories when well-trimmed. Pork loin is also a great cut because it’s relatively low in fat and calories when trimmed.

If you’re going to eat red meat, focus on sensible portion sizes. The American Heart Association and the USDA suggest that you shouldn’t consume more than 6 ounces of meat per day (that includes white meat!). A 3-ounce portion is about the size of a deck of cards or a bar of soap. InsideTracker will provide you with sensible recommendations for all kinds of food. The bottom line is that red meat can be incorporated into a healthy diet—but eat it in moderation!

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