Over the past several decades, red meat has faced a lot of criticism. It has been blamed for medical conditions such as heart disease, cancer, and now diabetes. There are growing amounts of people who eat meat, but not red meat because of the bad rap that red meat has gained. We want to clear up a few things in defense of red meat. Part 1 of this series will identify what red meat is and part 2 will discuss what red meat is not.
What Red Meat Is
Just to clarify, red meat comes from a small variety of animals which include beef, lamb, venison, and buffalo. Like many other protein sources, these meats offer a varied nutrient profile. While all meats are good sources of protein and B vitamins (niacin, thiamine, and riboflavin); red meat is higher in iron, zinc, and vitamin B12. Another place that red meat is beneficial is based on the fatty acid profile. While these nutrients can be found in other places, red meat offers a source that is natural, absorbable, and approved for regular consumption.
Fatty Acid Profile
Fats come in many forms, and they are not all created equal. Saturated fat, although it has been criticized for its role in heart disease, it is actually a very healthy, necessary fat for our body. Did you know that if saturated fat is not consumed through the diet it will be made by the bacteria in the large intestines? Wild, isn’t it!? On the other hand, unsaturated fats are either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. The monounsaturated fats are they types found in olive oil and avocado. While polyunsaturated fats (vegetable oil, canola oil, soybean oil) have been touted for several decades, research has proven that this praise was misplaced. Polyunsaturated fats are now known to cause inflammation.
The fatty acid profile in beef is primarily saturated (remember, this is good) and monounsaturated. While grass fed beef is ideal, the digestive process of these animals allows the saturated fat and monounsaturated fat to remain consistent despite what these animals are fed. However, the omega-3 and CLA fats are significantly higher in grass fed beef, but there will be more on that to come in part 2.
Iron is a metal that is essential to support the human body. It is necessary for oxygen transportation throughout the body; it is essential for building proteins, enzymes, and regulating cell growth. Generally speaking, the intestines regulate the absorption of our iron and we absorb only a fraction of the iron we consume. Red meat provides the body with the most efficient form of iron, with a higher amount and higher absorption percentage than other food sources of iron such as vegetables and legumes.
Zinc is one of the most abundant trace elements in the body. It is used for various functions including building numerous enzymes and proteins; it is also crucial for optimal brain development in children and function in adults, DNA gene expression, and cell death. Low zinc levels can be associated with type 2 diabetes, depression, various forms of cancer, and infertility. There are various food sources of zinc, but as you may have guessed, red meat ranks up there as one of the highest.
Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin which must be consumed through our foods, as the body cannot make it on its own. B12 is absolutely necessary for nerve and brain function, cellular metabolism, and building DNA. B12 deficiency has been linked to fatigue, depression, and, in extreme cases, mania and psychosis. Red meat and liver are some of the highest sources of vitamin B12, which are highly absorbable.