Can you include red meat in a healthy diet?

Photo of our MEATLESS nights: beet pizza crust [you can find this at whole foods] with cauliflower ricotta topping, mushrooms, arugula, onions + pine nuts

Can Red Meat be a Healthy Part of Your Diet?

The answer is yes; however, there’s much more to the story! I am a Registered Dietitian working alongside my husband who is a Senior Resident Physician at the [same] hospital. So, we get asked this question a lot.

A lot of the time our patients ask us, “what do you do?” [in regards to our diet and including/excluding red meat]. So before we get into the research of red meat and why you can have it in your diet in moderation, we will touch on this first. Patrick and I follow a plant based diet 80-90% of the time. On average, we have red meat probably 6-12 times a year [this is a complete estimate]. This is about once every month or every other month aka we do not have it often. Processed meat is even more limited in our diet, we probably have this 3-6 times a year. Some people call this a “Flexitarian Diet” which is very similar to Mediterranean. We follow this diet for organ, mental and physical well being and weight maintenance, not for weight loss.

So then the question is – why? Well thankfully there has been an abundance of research on this topic.

The World Health Organization, a specialized agency focused on public health of the United Nations and The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified processed meat as a carcinogen, something that causes cancer. And it has classified red meat as a probable carcinogen, something that probably causes cancer. Processed meat includes hot dogs, ham, bacon, sausage, and some deli meats. It refers to meat that has been treated in some way to preserve or flavor it. Processes include salting, curing, fermenting, and smoking. Red meat includes beef, pork, lamb, and goat.

“Twenty-two experts from 10 countries reviewed more than 800 studies to reach their conclusions. They found that eating 50 grams of processed meat every day increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. That’s the equivalent of about 4 strips of bacon or 1 hot dog. For red meat, there was evidence of increased risk of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer.” – The American Cancer Society. Having processed meat daily, increases your risk of colon cancer about 1%. This is why having processed meat occasionally, is absolutely ok. You don’t want to have it often, not only because it increases cancer risk but also for heart health. All meat, and most animal products, are high in saturated fat. This is the kind of fat that you do not want a lot of in your diet because it increases risk of heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. 1 in every 4 deaths is caused from heart disease.

So how much saturated fat should you have? You should be aiming for a dietary pattern that achieves 5% to 6% of calories from saturated fat. For example, if you need about 2,000 calories a day, no more than 120 of them should come from saturated fat. That’s about 13 grams of saturated fat per day. – American Heart Association

The purpose is not to fear food. You don’t need that kind of negative energy towards food in your life. When Patrick and I do have red meat or even processed meat to be honest we don’t think twice about it. We enjoy it while we are having it because we know this is not something we have often. So it is truly unnecessary to fear it. Never fear your food. Focus on portion sizes and moderation vs restriction.

The great part about including more plant based meals and swapping out meat a few nights a week is that this typically means you are including more vegetables, beans, fruits etc! This is fantastic. More fiber, more antioxidants and less inflammation- YES PLEASE! Patrick and I have a goal of consuming 10 cups of fruits and veggies a day! Why? Research shows the greatest benefit from including 8-10 cups per day to avoid cancer, heart disease and other chronic diseases.



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