The Grapevine

What Are The Risks Of Eating Red Meat?

What exactly is the beef here? Though red meat can be nutritious, highlighting the risks of eating too much is not that simple since most studies we have on the subject are observational. 

Take, for instance, new research from the Cleveland Clinic which suggests that people who eat red meat produce more of a chemical — known as TMAO — in their body. People with high levels of this chemical in their blood may be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease which includes heart attacks and strokes.

Dr. Stanley Hazen, who led the research, pointed out that vegetarians and vegans tend to have lower levels of TMAO compared to their counterparts. This could be one of the factors as to why people who follow a plant-based diet tend to have a lower risk of heart disease death on average. The potential risk of diabetes has also been noted in other studies.

"Specifically, 3.5 ounces of red meat or 1.8 ounces of processed meat (e.g. a hot dog or 2 slices of bacon) daily led to a 19 percent and 51 percent increase in diabetes risk, respectively," suggested Dan Nadeau, an endocrinologist at Hoag Hospital in Irvine, California. "Diets rich in animal products contribute to the increased risk incidence of obesity as well as type 2 diabetes in the U.S." 

Furthermore, meat is one of the biggest sources of saturated fat in a typical American diet. As we know, too much of these fats can increase the level of cholesterol in our blood which is not good news for the heart.

"If you decrease your daily intake of animal fat, you’re going to decrease your intake of saturated fat," explained Alice Lichtenstein, a professor of nutrition at Tufts University, Massachusetts.

Based on limited evidence, the World Health Organization has classified red meat as "probably carcinogenic" to human beings. While some studies have found links to pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer, the agency notes that the most prominent association has been found with colorectal cancer.

However, we do not know how significant this link is just yet. There are a lot of factors to consider, from body weight down to how the meat is cooked. Many studies have suggested that high-temperature cooking methods could lead to the formation of cancer-causing compounds.

This is why gentler cooking methods like stewing and steaming are recommended over grilling and frying. It is also advisable to avoid eating any portion of the meat that has been burnt or charred.

The bottom line is that we are better off avoiding processed meat which is the type strongly linked to health risks. As for unprocessed red meat, experts stress on moderation until we have higher quality research. Consider adopting a Mediterranean-style diet, which encourages more plant-based foods while cutting back on meat.