Red Meat Isn’t the Cause of Heart Disease
Red meat's reputation began its decline in the 1970s. With the increase of heart disease there were many studies undertaken to determine the cause. It was during this time that Ancel Keys famed "Seven Countries Study" started gaining traction in the consumer world. To summarize, the Seven Countries study suggested that saturated fat is what causes heart disease. This idea was adopted by the major medical and governmental agencies in the 1980s and has been viewed as valid ever since. However, the Seven Countries theory has been disproven numerous times. Just one example is this meta-analysis study published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition which analyzed 21 previous studies and concluded that saturated fat is not associated with increased risk of heart disease. And this study in the British Journal of Medicine wants to “bust the myth of saturated fat’s role in heart disease.”
Red Meat Isn’t the Same as Processed Meats
Many early studies evaluating the correlation between heart disease, diabetes, and stroke included red meat and processed meats together, as if they were the same thing. By definition, processed meats are changed from their natural state, usually with the addition of a varying food additives. Once it was recognized that red meat and processed meats (like hot dogs and lunch meats) are not the same, they began being studied that way. This meta-analysis study published in Circulation Journal evaluated 20 studies. They broke up processed meats and red meats into two different categories and concluded that processed meats, not red meats, did contribute to heart disease and type 2 diabetes. This study also differentiated between red meat and processed meats and concluded that processed meats increase the risk of diabetes, specifically in young and middle aged women.
Red Meat Isn’t Created Equal
When we recognize the difference between red meat and processed meats, we can then further differentiate them into conventional red meat (grain fed-what you typically find in the grocery store) and grass fed meat. Most studies look specifically at beef, since it is the most common type of red meat. Beef cattle are fed two different ways-the conventional feed is grain based (corn, soy, wheat), or what a cow naturally eats, which is grass. Grass fed beef is lower in overall fat than grain fed. And while the saturated fat content remains about the same, the specific fatty acids differ greatly. Grass fed beef is higher in stearic acid, which does not raise cholesterol levels. Grain fed cows have higher myristic acid and palmitic acid, both of which are known to raise cholesterol. In addition, grass fed beef is higher in CLA (conjugated lineolic acid), which is a fatty acid that protects against certain types of cancers and helps decrease body fat. And lastly, grass fed beef is significantly higher in omega-3 fatty acids which are related to decreased incidence of depression, memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease, heart attack, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancers. As if all of these were not enough, grass fed beef is a good source of the fat soluble vitamins A and D, and the beef has the appropriate amount of fat available to allow for absorption of these vitamins (Click here for more details about fatty acids in grain vs grass fed beef).
So we can see that it’s easy to put a blanket statement out criticizing red meat, but the critics should distinguish between types of red meat (processed vs natural; and grain vs grass fed) because, like people, not all red meats are created equal. The quality of- and nutrition in meat is determined by what the animals eat, and often, by how they are analyzed in research studies. While it may all look the same from the outside, the quality of the meat you purchase will make a difference in your overall health and well-being.
Red meat is more than just a great protein source. It is filled with various nutrients that are essential for proper physiology and function of the body and brain. Grass-fed meats are a great source of not only proteins, vitamins, and minerals, but they are also significantly higher in Omega 3's and CLA's (the "good" fats) than grain-fed meats. When cooked right, grass fed meats offer a delicious source of nutrition. Shop for some of the highest quality meats (in terms of both taste and nutrition) here in our meat market.
Daphne is a food passionista, farm girl wanna-be, and registered, yet unconventional dietitian. She has worked in a variety of clinical nutrition settings before deciding to start her practice, My Food Coach in Lafayette, LA. Through her practice, Daphne focuses on providing the body with the nutrients it needs to bring itself into balance. Her practice revolves around providing education, empowerment, and support to allow you to make changes necessary to maintain optimal health. Click here to visit her website and read more about a variety of food and diet-related topics.