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Is Red Meat Bad For You? Like, All Bad?

Red meat
(Image credit: Unknown)

The latest science You may remember the kerfuffle a couple of years ago when the World Health Organisation officially classified regular red meat (pork, beef and lamb) as a Group 2A carcinogen, “probably carcinogenic to humans”. So has anything changed since then?

Most red meat research focuses on whether it might increase your cancer risk, and here there’s some good news. One theory is that myoglobin, the red pigment that leaks out of your steak (no, it’s not blood) can transform into compounds that can damage your gut lining during digestion – but you can offset the effect by eating green veg with your meat. Another is that the “char” you get from grilling creates gut-damaging chemicals – an effect which, again, you can offset with cruciferous vegetables.

The take-home lesson: don’t eat red meat every single day, and when you do, have a rocket side salad or some broccoli.

The expert take “Red meat is a food group that you don’t want to ignore,” says James Rutherford, a nutritionist and Bio-Synergy ambassador. “A small amount of saturated fat in the diet is necessary for regulating hormones such as testosterone, and fat acts as a building block for not only hormones, but cell membranes too. Red meats are also loaded with protein, and contain vital micronutrients such as iron and zinc which are essential for oxygen transportation and immune system support respectively. In order to ensure that you’re not overdoing the saturated fat, aim for lean cuts.”

Do eat Like the man says, lean cuts. Fillet, sirloin, rump and 5% fat minced beef all keep saturated fats low, while providing lots of protein. If you’re going to grill your steaks, you might want to marinate them first: a study from the Journal Of Agricultural Food Chemistry suggests that garlic, onion, lemon juice and dark beer can all offset the formation of potentially harmful compounds.

Don’t eat Factory-farmed meat, if you can help it. Grass-fed beef contains up to five times the omega 3 fatty acids you get in grain-fed and twice the conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), while there’s some evidence that cage-reared cows have an unhealthy hormone profile from their (mostly) dreadful lives. So eat less, and go for higher-quality when you do.

Joel Snape
Joel Snape

From 2008 to 2018, Joel worked for Men's Fitness, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach. Though he spent years running the hills of Bath, he’s since ditched his trainers for a succession of Converse high-tops, since they’re better suited to his love of pulling vans, lifting cars, and hefting logs in a succession of strongman competitions.