Red meat has acquired a negative reputation. It is said to be rich in fat and cholesterol,and its high intake is associated with heart disease,diabetes and cancer. Public messages about the effects of its consumption are both confusing and misleading. However,this reputation may not be completely justified.
A paper which reviewed 54 studies in relation to red meat consumption and coronary artery disease reveals that red meat may not be as bad as believed. Substantial evidence from recent studies showed that lean red meat trimmed of visible fat does not raise blood cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. The harmful elements are mainly hydrogenated fats in fast foods,snack foods,oils,processed foods and visible meat fat.
In fact,lean red meat has low levels of saturated fat. If consumed as part of a healthy diet,it is associated with reductions in LDL (bad) cholesterol in those with both high and normal cholesterol levels. Researchers have also found that lean red meat has no effect on the clotting properties of blood.
Increasing scientific evidence shows that lean red meat can be a healthy component of a well-balanced diet. This evidence also shows that meat itself is not a risk factor for lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and cancer. The risk stems from excessive consumption of harmful hydrogenated fats and untrimmed fatty meat of modern grain and concentrate-fed domesticated animals.
Although there are some conflicting studies which associate red meat consumption with increased inflammation and risk of metabolic syndrome,these do not take the quality of meat into account.
Meat is a good source of protein,omega-3 fatty acids,vitamin B12,niacin,zinc and bio-available heme iron (a form of iron far more readily absorbed compared to that found in plant foods). For women and teenage girls who are likely to get anaemia,lean red meat may be important.
The ill effects of red meat can be best described by the age-old adage the dose makes the poison. People who experience increased risk of colon cancer consume over 250 grams of red meat daily. The American Institute for Cancer Research and the American Dietetic Association recommend limiting red meat intake.
Along with the quantity,the quality of meat also counts. Scientific evidence reveals that processed meat like sausages,bacon,salami increase the risk of bowel cancer more than red meat does. They are not only high on fats but also contain potentially carcinogenic components like nitrites. It is recommended that cured or processed meats be eaten as a condiment rather than as a main dish. Therefore,American Cancer Society advises that intake be limited. Organ meats such as liver and kidney are relatively low in fat but high in cholesterol.
Other issues are cooking methods,how healthy your diet is and how much of vegetables and fruits you eat. Cooking meat at very high temperatures (frying or barbecuing) and eating too much of char-grilled and processed meat is undesirable as it forms harmful compounds which can be carcinogenic. Cook meat in healthy ways bake,roast or broil. Marinating with herbs such as ginger,garlic and turmeric reduces formation of harmful compounds. Vegetables and fruits are rich in antioxidants and help neutralise potentially carcinogenic compounds.
In other words,if you eat lean red meat once or twice a week as part of a healthy diet,you have nothing to fear.
Ishi Khosla is a former senior nutritionist at Escorts. She heads the Centre of Dietary Counselling and also runs a health food store. She feels that for complete well-being,one should integrate physical,mental and spiritual health. According to her: To be healthy should be the ultimate goal for all.