Red meat has been demonized as not only harmful to our weight loss goals but also to our general health. In 2015, the World Health Organization called red meat a “probable carcinogenic,” and warned that a diet rich in it has been shown to contribute to colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancers, shocking many a meat lover across the country. A 2012 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine also found red meat consumption increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and death overall.
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But is the backlash warranted? Or is it OK to eat a burger without feeling like you’re issuing yourself a death sentence? The short answer: yes — you just have to eat it the right way.
Why red meat can be good for you
Despite the alarming headlines, red meat isn’t all bad. “A healthy diet can absolutely include moderate amounts of red meat,” Rachel Begun, M.S., R.D.N., a nutrition educator and advocate, told Fox News. It’s packed with protein (there are about 22 grams in a three-ounce portion), which plays a role in weight loss by inducing that feel-full sensation, Begun said.
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Red meat is also loaded with vitamin B and zinc. Plus, it has twice as much iron as chicken, which is a nutrient many children and premenopausal women tend to have low levels of, Robyn Kievit Kirkman, a registered dietitian, told Fox News. “Chicken and fish can help [increase iron levels], but beef is more of a power puncher,” she said.
The healthy way to eat red meat
First, consider portion size.The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends eating no more than 18 ounces of red meat per week. That shouldn’t feel too restrictive given that a portion should be 3 to 4 ounces, or about the size of a small iPhone. But many Americans need to reprogram what qualifies as one helping, as restaurant servings can be close to 16 ounces or more, Begun said. In other words, don’t take the fact that red meat can be nutritious as a pass to regularly wolf down huge cuts of steak.
Next, choose the right cut. Kievit Kirkman suggested avoiding unnecessary calories and fat by choosing pieces of meat with “round” or “loin” on the label, or ground beef that’s 90 percent lean. You can slash the fat count even more by opting for grass-fed options, which have less fat and more antioxidants than grain-fed beef, according to a 2010 study published in Nutrition Journal.
Finally, think of meat as one ingredient in your dish rather than making it the star of your plate. Begun suggested adding slices of beef to a dinner salad or cooking them in a veggie stir-fry.