The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Eating Red Meat

 

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Anthropologists have recently discovered that the earliest humans, who date back two and a half million years ago, were primarily carnivorous creatures; in fact, our bodies are still designed to eat meat, which contains complete proteins (which we can’t produce on our own). But there are some serious benefits and risks associated with eating red meat, as well as processed meat like bacon and sausage. Here’s what you need to know about eating red meat—including the environmental impacts of raising cattle and other livestock—so you can make an informed decision about what to feed your body (and your family).


What's good about red meat

Red meat provides many essential nutrients including protein, iron, and B vitamins. It also contains high levels of zinc, which helps cells produce energy. Many people who eat red meat also have a lower chance of developing cardiovascular disease. Plus, red meat is lower in calories than other types of protein like chicken or fish. A serving of lean steak has about 100 fewer calories than skinless, boneless chicken breast and an equal amount of weight. And what's not to love about juicy burgers or tender pork chops? There are both good and bad things about red meat!

What's bad about red meat

Red meat is usually associated with steak, hamburgers, or other grilled meats. The problem is that red meat has a high saturated fat content and can lead to obesity. When you eat red meat, your body produces more cholesterol than when you eat poultry or fish. This cholesterol can build up in your blood vessels, causing atherosclerosis, which may lead to heart disease. If you have diabetes then eating red meat will make it harder for your body to produce insulin which regulates your blood sugar levels. Plus, red meat is loaded with calories, so if you're trying to lose weight, this isn't the best food choice. 

Processed meat like bacon or ham is also high in saturated fats and processed meats are associated with an increased risk of cancer because they contain nitrates which form carcinogenic compounds when heated. Plus, if you consume too much-processed meat, it might increase your risk of cardiovascular disease due to its sodium content as well as nitrates/nitrites that can damage cells lining our blood vessels. In addition, studies show that cooking red meat at high temperatures creates heterocyclic amines (HCAs) which cause DNA changes in animal studies. HCAs have not been studied on humans, but there is concern that these substances could be linked to cancer. So it's important to cook any meat over direct heat at lower temperatures and avoid charring. When it comes to health risks, researchers still aren't clear whether red meat is just as bad as white meat like chicken or fish. But many people believe that red meat should be limited because even though you may get some good nutrients from eating some lean cuts of beef, we don't know if those benefits outweigh the potential risks mentioned above.

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What's ugly about red meat

Don't get me wrong: red meat is a great source of protein, iron, zinc, omega-3s, and B vitamins. But there are also some ugly sides to eating beef. The USDA estimates that beef production creates one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of carbon dioxide for every kilogram of beef produced. This number doesn't seem like much until you compare it to chicken, which only produces 0.5 kilograms per kilogram. In addition, cows eat food that humans could eat. So if we were able to replace all our current beef consumption with other sources of protein, we would have enough food available for 7 billion people. 

I don't recommend going vegetarian or vegan right now, but limiting your intake can help lower your carbon footprint and reduce animal cruelty on factory farms. If you do eat red meat, try to buy locally raised grass-fed beef, which will be better for the environment and your health.

Environmental Impact of Meat Production

Red meat production is highly environmentally unsustainable because it requires more water and land than poultry or plant-based proteins. Cattle farming accounts for 40% of all agricultural emissions, as well as 80% of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. Red meat consumption is projected to rise by 50% by 2050 due to population growth. 

Carbon dioxide emissions from livestock production account for 18% of all human-made greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock also produces 65% of all nitrous oxide emissions, which is 296 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Methane emissions from livestock account for 9% of total US greenhouse gas emissions. In total, this accounts for 14.5% of global human-made greenhouse gas emissions.  It's important to balance these health concerns with your personal dietary goals when considering whether you should eat red meat or processed meats.


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Conclusion and Suggestions

Ultimately, what to eat will vary from person to person. It's important to maintain a balanced diet that includes healthy foods from all food groups. If you do choose to eat red meat, opt for leaner cuts such as beef tenderloin or pork loin and only eat it occasionally (no more than once or twice a week). Processed meats are less desirable because they typically contain high levels of saturated fats, sodium, and nitrates, which can be harmful to your health. To reduce your environmental impact, try substituting plant-based protein sources like beans and soy products instead of meat in dishes like chili or tacos.  These options can provide all the nutrients you need while also helping protect our environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Another option is to purchase sustainable seafood. Sustainable fishing methods generally use nontoxic nets and avoid bycatch. The best fish to consume are small fish like herring, anchovies, mackerel, sardines, trout, salmon, tuna, and bass. By consuming these fish, you may help preserve ocean ecosystems and limit climate change. For vegetarians or vegans who don't want to take the risk with processed meats but want an alternative source of animal protein, soybeans offer a satisfying source of protein. Soybeans have been shown to lower cholesterol and improve cardiovascular function, but many believe this is caused by phytoestrogens found in soy rather than its protein content. The good news is that eating soy may not lead to hormonal changes, so if you're a vegetarian or vegan looking for an alternative source of protein, look no further!