Why is it that the media and doctors have such a “beef” with red meat? Although I eat more fish than meat, I don’t really have much of a beef with lean grass-fed red meat. The problem with red meat is in the inconsistency in the science. Many of the studies that have shown the unsavory effects of red meat on your health (heart disease, cancer, etc.) grouped together processed (bacon, sausage, lunch meats) and unprocessed meats. In fact, much of the data suggesting that animal derived saturated fats do this too; they group processed preservative saturated fast food with your ostrich burger.
A study was just published in the March journal Cell Metabolism that tenderizes meat and protein to a pulp and of course the media jumped on it. Look at all these headlines!!!
Eating large amounts of meat, cheese may be as deadly as smoking, study shows.FoxNews.com
Diet High in Meat, Cheese Can Be as Bad as Smoking Discovery News Meat and cheese may be as bad for you as smoking. EurekAlert!
High-Protein Diet Raises Cancer Risk As Much As Smoking.LiveScience.com
High-Protein Diets In Midlife Linked To High Risk Of Premature...Huffington Post
High-protein diet a factor in shorter life. Kiama Independent
Eating lots of meat and cheese in middle age is 'as deadly as SMOKING'. Daily Mail
High-protein diet a factor in shorter life. The Sydney Morning Herald
Despite these sensationalized headlines the study in Cell Metabolism, a well respected journal, suggested that a diet with greater than 20% of calories from protein caused a 75% increase in overall mortality and a 4-fold increase in cancer death risk during the following 18 years. So, based on a 24 hour diet recall if you ate more meat derived proteins at middle age you had increased risk of death over the next 18 years assuming your diet was the same as that single 24 hour diet recall over those 18 years. WHAT??? Is it true that my high protein diet can kill me? Absolutely not!
Protein is an essential macronutrient. It contains amino acids that we can’t live without. There are so many well written articles that support the health benefits of consuming higher protein diets that I have to leave that for another discussion. This doesn’t even touch on the performance enhancing effects of whey protein and others.
Researchers at Harvard have performed an analysis of the meat literature and have determined that various types of protein are not created equal (Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2012 Dec;14(6):515-24). After close evaluation of the data, scientists have demonstrated that unprocessed red meat is not significantly associated with causing more deaths; on the other hand, intake of processed meat was associated with a 30% higher rate of cardiovascular disease and cancer deaths. These findings are consistent with smaller studies showing the strong association of processed meats with cardiovascular disease. Science suggests that preservatives are the most notable difference. For instance, the processed meats contain up to 400% more sodium leading to greater blood pressure effects. The effects of this much sodium on blood pressure can explain the higher risk of cardiovascular disease alone.
Does red meat increase the risk colon cancer? The statistics say yes if you include processed meats and overcooked meats. It is thought that the formation of cancer causing compounds [heterocyclic aromatic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons] from meat cooked well-done at high temperatures is to blame for the increased risk. Studies that have separated out this kind of red meat have been inconclusive and don’t take into effect the lack of fiber or veggies in the diet. Fiber and veggies have been shown to be protective. Besides, frying potatoes and baking cereals creates more carcinogenic toxins (acrylamide) than overcooking meat!
Although marbled red meat is higher in saturated fat and cholesterol, lean red meat from grass-fed animals has more healthy polyunsaturated fats. Red meat also contains bioavailable forms of folate and vitamin B12. Folate and B12 are necessary to limit formation of homocysteine in your body that has been shown to be associated with cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline. In fact, homocysteine inhibits the production of the ever important nitric oxide. Meat also supplies performance and health enhancing creatine, coenzyme Q10, glutathione (antioxidant), iron, and carnosine.
This recent study in Cell Metabolism has not convinced me or other scientists that we shouldn’t be eating a high protein diet. When someone on a “western” diet says they eat more protein it is often in the form of Micky D’s burgers and luncheon meat. In moderation, lean red meats and a high protein diet have a place in your G.A.I.N. Plan. For those who are trying to grow, the extra calories and protein in red meat are useful tools. Stick to lean red meats like venison, buffalo, ostrich, and grass fed lean cuts of beef. When caloric intake is equal, red meat is no different than chicken when it comes to “dieting”. Don’t be afraid to include it for the variety of nutrients and add whey protein to boost your recovery from rigorous training.