Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Truth About Red Meat

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by Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom

Red meat has long been a food of confusion. Is it truly healthy and a plus for weight loss? If so, how much red meat and what kind of red meat do you really need to eat to reap its benefits? Or is it a high cholesterol, artery clogging nightmare? Truthfully, red meat can be an important part of a healthy eating plan.

There are 25+ cuts of meat that are low in artery clogging saturated fats. While all red meat contains some saturated fat, a substance which can boost LDL (bad) cholesterol over time, choosing lean cuts can help keep your cholesterol levels in check. Look for terms like “ultra-lean”, “round”, and “sirloin” because those are the cuts lowest in artery clogging fats found in red meat. Choose lean cuts like flank steak, top round, and sirloin tips with a much lower fat content. For ground meats, look for a maximum of 10% fat (90% lean).

You should skip meats with visible fat and marbling, as well as processed, high fat meats like salami and sausage that contain high amounts of saturated fat.
Trying to trim down? Red meat is an excellent source of complete, high quality protein It’s chock full of essential amino acids to build muscle and support a healthy brain. Protein keeps you fuller longer and negates nibbling later. Red meat is also a solid source of vitamins and minerals, especially iron, zinc and vitamin B12 – healthful nutrients many people (especially women) are often deficient in. A five-ounce serving of lean beef provides about half your protein needs for a day!

But what about the worry of red meat and heart problems? Heart disease has multiple genetic and lifestyle causes, but too much red meat can be bad for your heart if you choose poorly. High fat red meats, including marbled cuts with visible fat and ground and processed meats with greater that 10% fat can raise blood LDL (bad) cholesterol and lead to artery clogging heart disease, as well as contribute to high blood pressure. As I mentioned above, stick with moderate servings (4-5 ounces) of lean meats like flank steak, ground sirloin, and round steak, and cut down how often you consume them each week (no more than 2-3 times).

My bottom line? When it comes to red meat consumption, the old “everything in moderation” message rings true. If you choose lean and ultra-lean varieties, and cut down your portions (4-5 ounces) and how often you eat it (3 or fewer times a week), red meat can be a healthful part of any diet. Think of red meat as a “side dish,” to support a plant-based colorful plate!


  1. This is a great post! In addition to what you mentioned, I've heard that 100% grass-fed beef has a different, healthier fat profile. Are you aware of any research to support that? I find that grass-fed beef cooks differently, and that the fat on it is delicious (whereas the fat on conventional beef is undesirable or inedible).

  2. It's true that 100% grass fed beef has a different fat profile, with a greater proportion of omega-3 fats, compared to conventional (corn-fed) beef. This makes sense, since what an animal eats predicts the kind of fat depots it produces.

    That said, grass fed beef shouldn't be thought of as a "heart healthy" choice, unless it's one of the lean varieties of all red meat varieties. It's still a source of saturated fat. It's also really pricey, but if you don't mind the cost, it's a tasty and sometimes healthier choice!