Why do people believe red meat is bad for you? Is there any truth to it? Read on to find out the truth about red meat and the proper way to cook it.
Is Red Meat Bad for You?
If you’re like me who likes a lot of red meat, you probably heard this statement: “Meat’s a killer – it can cause cancer, so don’t eat too much of it.” So, is this true?
I would suppose the statement “Red meat is bad for you” is very similar to the statements “Carbs are bad for you”, “Fat’s bad for you”, and “Sugar’s bad for you”. There are a lot of things out there that people try to report as “bad for you” and just like before, we have to unwind this statement to look at what’s it made up of.
First of all, it’s a bit subjective since it deals with the individual and how they feel about it – some people don’t like red meat. It could be that they don’t like how it tastes. Some people don’t like eating animals, such as vegetarians and vegans. There’s nothing wrong if you decide that you don’t like red meat because it goes against your moral values.
And you can still have a balanced nutritional intake and dietary intake without any red meat involved. And then if that could mean other meats as well… for instance if you don’t want to have chicken or fish and other such things, you can go for it if it’s your thing.
Then there’s also some objective information with regards to the actual chemistry and physiology of the body. So let’s walk through both of those to really understand this.
Does Red Meat Cause Cancer?
Let’s look into the hundreds of studies done on this subject. In these studies they found that people who’ve had red meat in their diet in various different amounts have gotten cancer and obesity-related diseases. There was a correlation in that if they ate red meat they also had cancer.
However, what has not been shown in a single study is if it’s red meat which causes cancer. Correlation and causation doesn’t mean the same thing. Correlation means that two things happened at the same time – you ate red meat and you’ve had some kind of disease. But, there’s no causation, meaning that there’s no proof that red meat caused that disease.
In those same studies, a lot of the people who’ve had red meat had very sedentary lifestyles. They smoked, drank excessive amounts of alcohol, and probably didn’t have a lot of vegetable and fiber intake. So when you start to combine a bunch of bad health qualities all together in one lifetime for somebody, it’s very hard to pick out the one thing that caused the problem. Pointing the finger to red meat is not a logical way of determining who the bad guy was in that situation.
So in reality the meat by itself is neither good nor bad, just like carbohydrates are neither good nor bad. It’s how much you are consuming them which can really give the answers as to their value for your body.
Too Much Processed Food is Bad
Now let’s start to deal with the reality. There are lots of ways to cook that meat, and when it comes to consuming beef, the problems arise when you process it too much.
Let’s take for example a slim jim—it’s a heavily processed meat with a lot of nitrates and nitrites inside. These are preservatives so no bacteria can grow in the meat. The problem here is that these bacteria can be good for your gut since these help you break down foods. Now those preservatives that stop bacteria from growing on your slim jim kind of messes with your system inside.
That’s why we have some negative feedback problems with our bodies when we consume these highly processed meats. So it may not be a good idea to consume too much of these.
How about beef jerkies? Beef jerky is just beef that’s been dehydrated. It’s cooked on a very low temperature for a long period of time such that all the water comes out. In this case it’s very different than the processing done to a slim jim or other sausages where preservatives, salts, flavors, artificial colors, and all kinds of stuff are added. A beef jerky’s way less processed, since there’s just a little bit of flavoring added, so it’s on the end spectrum of good and the least processed.
What Happens when You Cook Your Meat Longer?
Back to grilling our steaks. It’s important to understand that the cooking itself could be a problem if you don’t cook your food properly. This is where we can create some of the things that do cause cancer – carcinogens. So the cooking process itself is where the challenge comes in – it’s not the beef, but the cooking process that could cause some problems.
So on a spectrum of cooking meat, it goes from: raw, rare, medium rare, medium, well-done, and charred. The further you go down the cooked direction, or the longer you cook something, it actually makes it more bioavailable for your body to absorb.
In its raw state a steak is really hard for your body to process, as I’ve shared before, because the thermic effect of food is very high in protein sources. It’s harder for your body to break down so it takes energy to digest that food, hence you get less calories in a less cooked piece of meat.
The more you start to cook it down to the medium range you can actually get more nutrition out of it. Now that’s how being able to cook with fire back in the olden days allowed us to proliferate as humans on the earth because we got more nutrition out of our meats.
So if your goal is fat loss, you might want to stay closer to the raw end of the spectrum. You could stick to the rare to medium range.
If you cook even further down and even get to the charred state, this is where the carcinogens come in. If you’ve cooked something too long in high heat, it causes that beef and some of these sugars inside of it to chemically change into heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Now those are the actual bad guys. It’s the heat that is bad for you and not the meat, because it’s the chemical changes that occurred inside the meat that cause these carcinogens to be formed.
Pay Attention when Cooking Your Meat
So how do you avoid those? Well when you start to cook your meat, pay close attention to it. There are five things to watch out for:
- type of meat
- cook time
- size of meat.
First of all, the type of meat. Let’s take for example a ribeye. It’s a fatty cut of meat, so if you’re grilling it some of those fat will render off and just drip down into the fire. Those fats will then cause smoke to come up and have a lot of these heterocyclic amines in there which is bad. So if you’re cooking a ribeye on the grill put some foil on there to make sure those drippings don’t go right in the fire causing the flare-ups and extra charring on the meat.
Now if you have a lean cut like say a filet or a tenderloin, there’s not very much fat. You can go grill it and nothing’s gonna drip out of it so you’re safe there.
So the type of meat matters based on fatty versus lean.
Now we’re made to tolerate all kinds of horrible stuff happening to us all the time – from ultraviolet radiation coming from the sun, to bad things in the air, to sometimes having food that may have been overcooked.
The issue is not if these things are intermittent – here and there, and once in a while. It’s if you do it all the time. If it’s constantly bombarded, your body just can’t tolerate it, and that’s when we have negative health issues, especially things like cancer. So you’re not gonna have cancer with just one time of having some charred steak, it’s having this repetition in excess.
So, is red meat bad for you? FICTION. So for all the meat lovers out there – don’t be scared anymore.
- Red meat by itself is not bad for you – it’s how you consume it that can cause problems.
- Avoid overly processed and overcooked meat since these contain carcinogens which are bad for your body.
- Pay attention to your meat when you cook it, to make sure that it is not overcooked to the point of charred.