RED MEAT: TO EAT IT OR NOT?
Not long ago the World Health Organization (WHO) came out with a study showing that vegetarians were about 40% less likely to develop cancer compared to meat eaters. In the United States, researchers studied Seventh Day Adventists because most of their members avoided smoking and tobacco and lived a somewhat healthy lifestyle (and most Baptists don’t drink or smoke either). Additionally, about half the Adventist population is vegetarian, while the other half consume small amounts of meats.
The fact that scientists were able to separate the effects of eating meat from other factors made these studies even more interesting. Overall, the studies showed a significant reduction in cancer risk for those who did not eat meat. The Harvard studies (in 2012) showed that daily meat eaters have almost three times the colon cancer risk, compared to those who very rarely ate meat. (1)
The outcome of all this research is not what I wanted to hear! You see, I love meat, especially red meat. In fact eating lots of red meat with the extra calories and protein is how I keep my weight up close to 170 pounds (in the 80’s I stayed around 185). This information however is what my oldest daughter Claire, who is into weight training, fitness, and nutrition, loves to hear to get her dad to become a vegetarian like her. So I had to research exactly what all the huff about meats, especially red meats really was! And to do that I went to one of my favorite authors, Lonnie Lowery PhD and RD who is a nationally known professor of nutrition and exercise physiology.
In his article “Meat! Down on the Pharm 4” that was published in 2006, Lonnie makes some great and scientific points concerning meat. (2) The fact of the matter is, most all red meats remain a very nutrient-rich food. One of the key words in all the nutritional circles is “Nutrient Density” which meats surely are. However, broccoli is also a very nutrient dense food, but try over-consuming broccoli and see how much muscle mass you put on. Lonnie also makes a good point that as far as the Gross Nutrient content of food, that’s where meat shines. Meat will always be near the top when it comes to key sources of vitamins and minerals!
Lonnie’s article states that meat is getting recognized as having some very special, almost pharmaceutical properties including:
1. High Quality Protein
2. Vitamin B-12: (essential nutrient, forms red blood cells, help promote energy)
3. Heme Iron: (a readily absorbed form, helps fight fatigue in some people)
4. Zinc: (most people don’t get enough through their diet, also there are over 100 different enzymes involved in catalytic reactions that are Zinc dependent)
5. Creatine: (Muscular Power—this could be the only nutrient in meat and it would be worth eating)
6. Carnosine: (Cellular buffering and antioxidant + longevity)
Lonnie explains that the amount of creatine and carnosine can’t begin to match the amount in a supplement of each and I would agree that this is true, however what researchers say on this matter may surprise you, but we’ll get to that later.
1) The Protein: What I like about beef is that it has a slow emptying effect in the stomach, providing a controlled anti-catabolic stream of amino acids (much like Casein Protein). And anytime an anti-catabolic process is going on, an anabolic process is not far behind!
2) Vitamin B12: Many people swear by its effects on energy levels and rightfully so, however B12 does this by helping the body breakdown carbohydrates. And when the body does this, Voila`! Energy! Where can one get this important vitamin? Beef!
3) Heme Iron: Plant foods are definitely different from animal foods when it comes to their iron content. In animal foods, iron is often attached to proteins called heme proteins, and referred to as heme iron. In plant foods, iron is not attached to heme proteins and is classified as non-heme iron. Heme iron is typically absorbed at a rate of 7-35%. Non-heme iron is typically absorbed at a rate of 2-20%.
There are dangers of excess iron in men but there are also risks regarding low iron as well. Iron just happens to be the most common single nutrient that people can be deficient in. Does that mean you should take an iron supplement? By all means NO—unless prescribed by a doctor.
4) Zinc: A very important function that zinc controls is its ability to promote cell signaling which releases hormones, aids in nerve conduction and participates in apoptosis, (the programming of the death of a cell – sounds nice!)
5) Creatine: Yes, go to any store where supplements are sold and you’ll see plenty of Creatine containers stocking the shelves. But the only place that you’ll find it in your diet is through meat. It would take around 10 pounds of uncooked beef to approach a typical “loading” dose (15-20 grams) so your supplements do come in handy and can save you plenty of money on meat at the grocery store. Through the research of the International Society of Sports Nutrition and its various members they have concluded that the majority of the studies (about 70%) indicate that creatine supplementation promotes a statistically significant improvement in exercise strength and explosiveness. (3)
6) Carnosine (beta-alanyl-L-histidine): This is found exclusively in animal tissues. Once again it would take 4-6 pounds of beef to get in 4-6 grams of a daily dose of beta-alanine. Carnosine goes through a long process of conversion where it’s broken down to be a strong lactic acid neutralizer and again it takes supplementation to do just that. Increasing muscle carnosine concentrations increases intracellular buffering capacity and thereby may delay the on-set of fatigue in athletes. (4) But carnosine does much more than being a lactic acid buffer. Research suggests that through your diet carnosine may also helpful as an antioxidant and also an anti-carbonyl, which means that when you are constantly overloading sugars into your system, this causes the collagen in your skin to age faster. It’s a process known as glycation. Carnosine can help to stop or slow down this process.
* Back to the Question; why eat red meat when supplementation does so much more especially with Creatine and Carnosine? Because research indicates that a reasonable intake of meat might prolong or even enhance the supplementation effects. (2)
** Bacon has been considered unhealthy because of all of the artery clogging saturated fats and all the sodium. However it has also been considered unhealthy due to the use of nitrates during the curing process. Now I always wondered that when I heard the word “nitrates”, that sure did sound familiar. Could it have anything to do with Nitric Oxide or NO in bodybuilding circles? And the correct answer is most definitely yes! It has some very healthy properties as well. Nitric oxide, formed by nitrite, has been shown to have vasodilator properties and may modulate platelet function in the human body, improving blood pressure and reducing heart attack risk. Nitrates may also help boost the immune system and protect against pathogenic bacteria. Since it is a vasodilator Bodybuilders take NO to increase blood flow to muscles that are being trained and with blood flow comes muscular growth. So it seems that the old-fashioned processing, involving leisurely time for curing and smoking, further enhances the conversion of nitrite to the beneficial nitric oxide molecule.
So why then has nitrates gotten such a bad rap? I’ve even seen in the grocery store bacon that had on the label “Reduced Nitrates”. The study that started the idea of nitrates causing or being linked to cancer has been discredited after much subjection to peer reviews. There have been many reviews in scientific literature that linked nitrates with human cancers or even suggested that it is or can be carcinogenic. These have also been discredited by peer reviews. (5)
How about all the fat in Bacon? Well, surprisingly all of the fat in bacon is monounsaturated, which is a good fat! 50% of the fat in bacon is oleic acid – the type so valued in olive oil! 3% of the fat in bacon is palmitoleic acid, a monounsaturated fat with valuable antimicrobial properties. About 40 % of bacon fat is saturated, a level that worries fat phobics, but this is the reason why bacon fat is relatively stable and unlikely to go bad under normal storage and cooking conditions. That’s important, given the fact that the remaining 10 % is in the valuable but unstable form of polyunsaturates. (6) Now personally for me I am a turkey bacon kind of a guy when I do eat bacon, but that’s for another time and article.
The Bad Stuff on Red Meat: There is a difference between regular non-processed beef and processed meats such as hot dogs, jerky, salami, and package meats. For over 50 years scientists have known that these types of processed meats combined with chemicals in your digestive tract form carcinogens. Processed meats are defined as meats that have been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other chemical processes intended to either preserve or increase its flavor.
The WHO did another study recently trying to figure out exactly how many people have developed Cancer from eating both processed meats and regular beef/red meat. In doing so scientists resorted to a much less reliable method called an epidemiological study. This type of study is simply asking people what they eat or what they do not eat. No keeping a journal, just simply asking a series of questions about their diet and their lifestyle then conducted follow-ups at preset times.
So based on their collected studies they concluded that each time you eat a 50-gram portion of processed meat (around 2 slices of your favorite bacon), you increase your risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. However, let’s look at this what seems to be a grim statistic under a different light. So then, if you were to eat 2 slices of bacon a day (and remember that bacon is not that bad), your chances of developing colorectal cancer goes up about 18% – so that over a lifetime your chance of developing this type of cancer goes up from the normal 5% to around 6%. That my friend means that for every 1000 meat eaters, you would expect 65 of them to develop bowel cancer at some point in their life instead of the ordinarily 55 that are expected to get it or – about 10 more people.
Eating the plain red meat increased the risk of cancer by 17% instead of the 18% from eating the processed meats. Interesting indeed! (2)
So why would meats (processed or clean regular red meats and beef) up your risk of cancer? I wrote an article about a year ago entitled “Don’t Burn the Meat”. I took some information I read in an article from Doctor Natalie E. Azar about the dangers of burning your food while grilling or even frying. It stated that when meat — be it beef, pork, fish, or poultry — is cooked at high temperatures; it forms heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). According to the National Cancer Institute, HCAs and PCAs cause cancer in animal models (think: lab rats). So far it’s unclear if humans sprout cancer growths after exposure to HCAs and PHAs, but we aren’t volunteering for any trials to find out for sure. (7)
So the next time you’re heating up your grill — or just the stove — follow these simple tips for cooking cancer-free cuts. And by the way, keep the temperature 300 degrees or below. In other words cook it slow. Your best bet is using a crock pot to ensure slow cooking, (I do this each and every Sunday). Also, if there are any black spots after your grilling or frying which of course would be burnt meat, break it off, don’t eat!
Marinate Your Meat:
Give your dish a healthy dose of flavor. Cooking meats with garlic, rosemary, fruit pulp, and vitamin E-rich spice rubs like chili powder and paprika may lower HCA production by as much as 70 percent, according to a review in Natural Medicine Journal. Bonus: Cooking with (not drinking) beer can decrease HCAs’ mutagenic powers. Also you can marinate your meats with citrus juice. The vitamin C inhibits the nitrites from combining with amines in your stomach.
So you have some of the good and the bad on red meat and beef. Now the choice is yours. However it may be wise when purchasing red meat or beef, choose a leaner cut and even the leaner cuts can be a diet buster if you prepare in unhealthy ways.
Trim the Fat. Be sure to cut off any visible fat before preparing.
Drain it. When cooking my ground turkey every Sunday I dump it in the strainer and rinse the meat with hot water. Then I blot the meat with a paper towel to remove the water.
The Healthier and Leaner cuts of beef would be: Cuts that are grass fed, plus:
When you are at the grocery store, an easy rule of thumb is to find lean beef quickly is that anything with “round,” “chuck” or “loin” in its name is usually either extra lean or lean. Round and chuck steaks are often tougher cuts – use an acidic marinade to tenderize the meat for at least an hour before cooking it. A combination of lemon juice, light soy sauce and minced garlic, for example, tenderizes meat quickly. Do not add oil to your marinades, as this introduces unnecessary fat.
During this writing I received a copy of my blood work during my yearly physical I took in October. As I stated before, I eat plenty of red meat and beef — plenty! But all lean cuts, nothing above 10% fat content. My Cholesterol was 182 (expected range 140 to 250mg/dl). My good cholesterol was 74.6 (expected range 25-75 mg/dl) and my bad cholesterol was 98 (expected range 80-200). Plus my triglycerides (fat in the blood) was 47 (expected ranges 10-200 mg/dl). I know that I’m blessed with good genetics — thanks mom and dad. I only do cardio once a week (10 minutes on the Jacobs Ladder) and then I let the weight training be my cardio on leg day where I hammer out 25 or so sets of lower extremity work!
My daughter will be happy to know that I am not consuming any red meats for a while to see what happens — but the choice is yours. Hope the added information will help you make an informed decision!
Chip Sigmon CSCS*D, CISSN, USAW, CMFT
1. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine; Meat Consumption and Cancer Risk. 11/1/2016
2. Lonnie Lowery, PhD. Meat! Down on the Pharm 4. 9/28/2006
3. Richard B. Kreider; Sports Application of Creatine; Essentials of Sports Nutrition and Supplements. Chapter 20; Pages 422-423
4. Jose Antonio, PhD, Abbie E. Smith, PhD; Sports Nutrition & Performance Enhancing Supplements. Chapter 10; Page 340
5. Chris Kresser, The Nitrate and the Nitrate Myth: Another reason Not to Fear Bacon, October, 5, 2012
6. Kaayla Daniel, Save the Bacon! Sizzling Bits about Nitrates, Dirty Little Secrets about Celery Salt and Other Aporkalyptic News. March 29, 2012