Health Negatives of Red Meat
Red Meat and Heart Disease
Red meat consumption is not associated with an increased risk of heart disease when eating an overall MODERATE saturated fat diet (1). Eating a HIGH saturated fat diet may increase your risk of heart disease which unfortunately seems to be correlated with unhealthy red meat choices. Think takeaway burgers and sausages versus lean steak. These processed meats, such as burgers and sausages, are associated with an increased risk of heart disease (2).
Eating leaner cuts of red meat if you already get a substantial amount of saturated fat elsewhere in your diet can help to moderate your saturated fat intake overall. Remember other heart protective habits are important here like exercise, and intake of more beneficial unsaturated fats.
Grass fed meats tend to have a more favourable fatty acid content with more polyunsaturated fat than non-grass fed red meats (3) and therefore could be better for heart health and often have the added bonus of not being processed.
Red Meat and Cancer
High temperature or exposed flame cooking of red meat such as grilling, oven broiling, pan frying, barbecuing or deep-fat frying seems to increase carcinogenic (potentially cancer causing) compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). We then consume these carcinogenic compounds when we eat the cooked meat.
Having said that, it has been found that those eating less than 600g of red meat per week BUT also eating a healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables have similar death rates to vegetarians (4). It seems the context of the diet as a WHOLE is more important to consider. This may be why studies carried out in North America seem to show a stronger link between red meat and cancer, than studies done in other countries with generally healthier dietary and lifestyle habits (5). It is difficult to disentangle all the variables as people eating the most red meat tend to have unhealthier lifestyle choices in general e.g. Fast food on a regular basis, as well as lower fruit and vegetable intake and lower activity levels.
Research often finds a link between red meat consumption and specifically colorectal cancer however when the data is adjusted to take out PROCESSED red meat such as deli meats, bacon, hot dogs, cured, smoked and canned meats there isn’t a strong link (5). In fact eating around 700g of mostly NON-PROCESSED red meat a week doesn’t seem to increase your risk of colorectal cancer. On the other hand PROCESSED meats have been labelled a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
Too much saturated fat in the diet could increase risk of heart disease but eating red meat in the context of a healthy and moderate saturated fat diet doesn’t seem to increase risk. Processed meat is associated with heart disease and is a known carcinogen. Meat cooked at high temperatures or over flames also produce carcinogenic compounds. Avoid these where possible.