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How Much Red Meat Should You Be Eating?

Processed and red meats do have a reputation that follows them along. Some of what you have heard or read is likely accurate, and some may be less so. It is important to get the answers facts straight and understand how much red meat you can be eating.

How Much Red Meat Should You Be Eating?


Recent news linking red and processed meats to cancer has several individuals confused, misguided, and upset to give up their love of a good steak. Do red and processed meats cause cancer? Are they bad for my overall health? Do I have to give up bacon? It is important to get the answers facts straight and understand how much red meat you can be eating.

The Meaty Facts and Truths

Processed and red meats do have a reputation that follows them along. The salt and fat content can contribute to overweight and obesity, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes as well. Technically, red meats are animal muscle meats that include beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse, and goat with some favored more than others. Processed meats are considered to be products that are transformed through processes such us salting, curing, and fermentation for enhanced flavor and increased preservation. Processed meats can include red meats but also turkey bacon, ground chicken, and other poultry products. Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced red meat is probably carcinogenic, or cancer-causing, specifically colorectal cancer with some evidence for pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer. However processed meat consumption has sufficient, convincing evidence that it is carcinogenic to humans, with 34,000 cancer deaths per year associated to high processed meat diets.

Have Your Meat and Eat It, Too

Although warnings and compelling evidence show cancer links and other health risks, giving up red meat entirely is unnecessary. What is necessary, though, is keeping portions and amounts in check. Although the exact "safe" level of meat is unidentified, processed meats are recommended once or twice per month while red meats can fit into a balanced diet once or twice per week. Ideally, red meats should not contribute to all protein needs. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends two to three ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish; half cup cooked dry beans; or two tablespoons of peanut butter as a protein serving. To put into perspective, three ounces of meat is about the size of a standard card deck. When choosing red meats, look at the label for key words like "lean" and "extra lean" and any sort of "loin," such as tenderloin and sirloin to keep the fat content minimized. Preparation methods of red and processed meats can also produce carcinogenic chemicals. Although the research is not fully understood, reducing high and direct cooking heats (like grilling) is suggested.

Red meats should not be considered the ultimate bad guy, as they provide a significant amount of iron, zinc, and other noteworthy vitamins and minerals for essential body functions. Naturally, the reduction of red and processed meats will reduce sodium and fat intake. For an overall balanced diet, also consume lean meats like poultry and get familiar and comfortable with plant sources. Cancer formation has a plethora of causing agents. Although the environment cannot necessarily be changed, choosing to keep red and processed meats in balance is a healthy decision.

References:

Q&A on the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat. World Health Organization. Available at: http://www.who.int/features/qa/cancer-red-meat/en/

What is a Serving? American Heart Association. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Caregiver/Replenish/WhatisaServing/What-is-a-Serving_UCM_301838_Article.jsp#.VnQI4fkrJD8

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