{Weight Loss & Diet} What’s the beef with red meat?

A recent Harvard study linked red meat consumption with a sharply increased risk of cancer, heart disease and, well . . . death. As we head into barbecue season, what’s an FOF to do?

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This March, a study from the Harvard School of Public Health left vegans smiling, the meat industry grumbling–and the media buzzing. The 30-year study showed that eating red meat was associated with a sharply increased risk of premature death–especially from heart disease and cancer. Researchers followed more than 120,000 men and women from 1980 to 2006, and found that each daily increase of three ounces of red meat carried a 13-percent greater risk of dying during the course of the study. The risks linked to processed meat were even greater–eating one hot dog or two strips of bacon per day was linked to a 20 percent increased risk of death.

What are we to make of this? “The public health message is pretty straightforward,” said Dr. Frank Hu, co-author of the study and professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. “We should switch from a red meat-based diet to a plant-based diet with healthier protein choices.”

But should we stop eating red meat entirely? Or is there a healthy middle ground? For answers, we turned to three doctors, all of whom consider nutrition a key component of their medical practices. All three take the risks of red meat seriously. Read their opinions, below, and then tell us, do you plan to change your red-meat habits this summer?

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Dr. Melina Jampolis, an internist specializing in nutrition and preventative medicine, favors significantly reducing red meat, but leaves some wiggle room if you’re a die-hard steak lover. “I believe that red meat can be consumed in moderation by most if you really enjoy it. According to The Alternative Healthy Eating Index [a “food pyramid” created at Harvard as a contrast to our standard American food pyramid] you should ideally be eating a 4:1 ratio of white meat and fish to red meat in order to decrease inflammation in the body. That is what I tell patients. If you are at high risk of heart disease or cancer (genetically or pre-existing condition) I would advise reducing red meat as much as possible.

“If you are going to eat red meat, choose the leanest cuts of red meat possible (such as round and loin) and opt for grass fed beef, as it contains less saturated fat and is higher in several nutrients including beta-carotene, magnesium, potassium and healthy fats including omega 3 fatty acids and CLA. Research shows that processed meat increases your risk of colorectal cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and death. I recommend limiting processed meat considerably and eating a balanced, anti-inflammatory diet to balance out consumption.

Dr. Jampolis’s burger alternative: “In my book, The Calendar Diet, I suggest slimming down your burgers by combining lean ground beef with ground mushrooms. Also, cook red meat lower and slower to decrease charring, which causes the formation of cancer causing compounds. Be sure to load up burgers with lots of disease fighting, anti-oxidant rich foods like leafy greens (romaine lettuce or spinach), fresh sliced tomatoes and onions (allium family veggies are great for detoxifying).

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Dr. Ulka Agarwal, chief medical officer for The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, takes a hard-line against red meat and processed meat. [Note: PCRM is a nationwide organization of physicians, scientists, educators, and laypersons that “promotes preventive medicine, especially good nutrition, and addresses controversies in modern medicine.” It was founded by Dr. Neal Barnard, a noted researcher in the field of diet and nutrition and a longtime advocate of vegetarian and vegan diets.]

“This study is one of many studies supporting the growing body of evidence that red and processed meat adversely affect health. As a physician, I would recommend to all of my patients to stop eating red and processed meat entirely, because of the increased risk of overall mortality, colorectal, prostate and other cancers, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. In addition, red meat is high in saturated fat and cholesterol, and has zero fiber or protective antioxidants. In 2007, the body of research on colorectal cancer, including nearly 60 independent studies, was deemed to provide convincing evidence that red and processed meats cause colorectal cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends avoiding processed meats entirely.

In the recent Harvard study cited above, they showed that replacing just one serving of red meat with nuts, whole grains, or legumes decreased risk of mortality by 19%, 14%, and 10%, respectively.”

PCRM suggests this bean burger recipe as an alternative to your typical ground-beef burger.

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Dr. Robert Ostfeld, MD, a cardiologist at New York’s Montefiore Einstein Center for Heart and Vascular Care says cutting out red meat is a great first step…but cutting out all meat is ideal for optimum health.

“This recent study supports a variety of other studies that suggest that red meat is not helpful for cardiovascular health or health in general. I believe that, ideally, a fully plant-based diet–meaning no animal products–is ideal. Clearly not all organizations support that recommendation–and it is not the formal recommendation of the cardiology society. It is simply my personal belief, based on work done in part by progressive doctors such as Dean Ornish, MD, and Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn (cardiologist and author of Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease), a considerable number of studies and data, and my experience in my own cardiology practice. I have a number of patients who have shifted from a traditional western-style diet–with significant animal proteins including red meat–to a plant based diet, and they have had substantial improvements in their cholesterol levels and their overall health. I have one patient who dropped his LDL cholesterol 80 points that way–without the use of statin drugs.”

“Ideally, most patients need to make a global change to a more whole-food and plant-based diet. Cutting out red meat is better than nothing. It’s a good thing, but it’s not gonna get us all the way we need to go.”

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So tell us, do you plan to change your red-meat habits this summer?

6 Responses to “{Weight Loss & Diet} What’s the beef with red meat?”

  1. Jonathon says:

    Very informative and helpful information. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love read meat. I value my health more so it was an easy decision to give up meat.

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  2. kellykat says:

    I’ve been a vegetarian for many years — I started because of environmental & humanitarian interests but as an unexpected & welcome bonus I received health benefits.

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  3. kakkie60 says:

    I have a medical degree as well as the fortune of growing up in a medical family, actually reading RN & MD media as soon as I was able to read. I have seen the scientific community change their recommendations frequently on practically every subject imaginable when it comes to foods,vitamins, minerals, symptoms, CPR, etc. I think that everything in moderation is the best policy. I will continue to eat a variety of meat products, beef included. I do not eat the same thing on a daily basis, I rotate. My grandparents lived into their 90s and cared for themselves, even though they ate foods fried in lard, rarely exercised, and smoked for the majority of their lives. I do not recommend their lifestyles. I just know that every study has another which counters it with the opposite information.

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  4. pkw says:

    All things in moderation. I think getting rid of refined carbs is the best thing I have done for my health in years… 4 months later and 32 lbs less and I crave exercise. I doubt I eat red meat more than 1-2 times a month.

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  5. Debra Meadow says:

    As a certified nutritional therapist I believe red meat can be part of a healthy diet. Do I mean factory farmed beef, that has been GMO grain-fed and treated with antibiotics and hormones? NO! I mean, sustainably and naturally raised, grass-fed beef and lamb. The recent study that showed red meat to have a detrimental effect on health did not take this important difference into account. It also did not take a lot of other things into account, like refined carbohydrate consumption, which I believe has far more to do with ill health than red meat. If you’d like more information on how to get healthy and stay healthy with real food, please contact me at debra@blueravenwellness.com or visit blueravenwellness.com

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  6. Kathy says:

    As a retired RN, I am aware of the studies about red meat. I am working hard to increase my exercise, lose weight and reduce my cholesterol level. We do have a history of heart disease in my family and one of my siblings is a vegetarian. I have increased my vegetable intake and eat at least one vegetable dinner a week. I have red meat maybe once a month. It is surprising to me that I do NOT miss it.
    I won’t go as far as saying that it is easy, but for me it is a much more healthy lifestyle.
    Good luck and stick with it to all who are working on this !

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