The majority of diets out there generally belong in one of two groups:
- low carb, high fat diets
- high carb, low fat diets
It is understandable that people get confused about what’s healthy and what’s not. Are plant based diets inferior to a diet such as the carnivore diet which involves you eating nothing but animal products. No plants, no grains.
The theory in a meat-only diet is that because you don’t ingest carbs, by exercising you’re using consuming fat cells to provide energy rather than the carbs, providing maximum fat loss
Are those diets bad for you? This article aims to explain more about the science behind eating red meat, the health concerns and benefits of consuming it.
What determines whether a food/product is healthy or bad for you?
- Macronutrient content/ratio
- Micronutrient content
- Possible carcinogenic content
Macro nutrient content
In order to get to the answer of the question “Is red meat bad for you?”. We’ll first take a look into the macronutrient composition of red meat. The typical macronutrient content per 100 grams of red meat is the following:
- Protein 22.6g
- Carbohydrates 0g
- Total Fat 9.4g
- Saturated Fat 3.7g
- Cholesterol 73.1mg
Red meat contains lots of protein (22g per 100g serving).
However, although it contains plenty of protein, it is also rich in fats (specifically saturated fats) and cholesterol.
Advocates of the carnivore diet often argue about the health benefits of saturated fat and cholesterol, particularly that they play a huge role in hormone production (testosterone) and have no impact on heart health.
Effects of saturated fat and cholesterol on health
Research based evidence suggest otherwise. A well known and cited meta-analysis, which involved 395 healthy individuals, replacing foods which are rich in fat and cholesterol, with a complex carbohydrate source proved to reduce cholesterol levels significantly.
Another argument that people who love meat often tend to make is that consuming fat through food does not affect the lipid levels of the blood. However a meta-analysis, which consisted of 27 individual studies, has proven that dietary saturated fat and cholesterol play a huge role in increasing blood serum cholesterol.
Meaning the fat you eat throughout food will impact your lipid profiles, raising your LDL cholesterol levels and also promoting HDL cholesterol to oxidize and cause inflammation in the body ( which was also shown in a separate study).
Do Saturated fats increase Testosterone levels?
As for saturated fat and cholesterol increasing/boosting testosterone levels, a study which compared testosterone levels from a group of meat eaters to testosterone levels of vegan men found no difference in total T levels, and even showed elevated T levels in the vegan group.
So let’s put that one to bed.
Disease risk from high cholesterol levels
The issue with elevated LDL levels and elevated total cholesterol level is the risk of developing atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis is a disease of the arteries characterized by the deposition of fatty materials and calcium on the inner walls of the arteries. Consumption of saturated fat and cholesterol over a prolonged time period raises serum cholesterol, the main cause of atherosclerosis, as shown by a study on this topic.
What about all the vitamins and minerals from red meat?
If you take a glimpse into the micro nutrient content of red meat, you soon realize that it isn’t as nutrient-dense as people make it to be.
Besides containing 38% for the recommended daily dose of zinc, 35% B12 and 22% RDA niacin/B3, red meat is quite poor in nutrition. The vitamin and mineral content are inferior to a plant based alternative such as lentils.
Lentils contain the following macros: P25g, C60g, F0g per 100gr, raw. Besides containing more protein than beef, lentils contain almost double the amount of mineral and vitamin content of red meat.
Arguments that lentils are an incomplete protein source tend to miss the point, as simply combining them with any other legume in a meal (or throughout the day) makes them complete.
Based on the studies we’ve linked red meat is not a good idea if you’re pursuing optimal health. It contains saturated fats and cholesterol, both contributing facts in the development of atherosclerosis and heart disease.
In addition, there are studies which suggest red meat containing carcinogen chemicals which is why red meat is classified as Class 2 Carcinogen.
Will eating red meat once a week kill you? Probably not. However you’re better off with other plant based options as it’s healthier and more environmentally friendly. Saying that though – the smell of lentils on the BBQ isn’t going to win any mouth watering competitions.
- Clarke et al. Dietary lipids and blood cholesterol: quantitative meta-analysis of metabolic ward studies. BMJ. 1997 Jan 11; 314(7074): 112–117. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2125600/
- Hopkins. Effects of dietary cholesterol on serum cholesterol: a meta-analysis and review. Am J Clin Nutr. 1992 Jun;55(6):1060-70. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1534437
- Nicholls SJ et al. Consumption of saturated fat impairs the anti-inflammatory properties of high-density lipoproteins and endothelial function. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2006 Aug 15;48(4):715-20. Epub 2006 Jul 24. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16904539
- von Birgelen et al. Relation Between Progression and Regression of Atherosclerotic Left Main Coronary Artery Disease and Serum Cholesterol Levels as Assessed With Serial Long-Term (>12 Months) Follow-Up Intravascular Ultrasound https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1161/01.cir.0000103664.47406.49
- Allen, Appleby, Davey, and Key. Hormones and diet: low insulin-like growth factor-I but normal bioavailable androgens in vegan men Br J Cancer. 2000 Jul; 83(1): 95–97. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2374537/