Delectable, though creamy rich, red meat Indian gravies aside, it is possible to eat red meat and still live healthy. However, several myths about red meat abound. Some say it causes heart disease, obesity, cancer, even high cholesterol. How true are these claims? We take a look at these red meat myths, and bust them once and for all.
1. Myth about Red Meat: Red meat causes weight gain
Fact: There are two separate myths here:
1. Red meat causes obesity: Red meat is like any other food, it comes with a certain number of calories. The more you eat it, the more calories you will consume. However, it is a more dense food, which means that its calorie count is higher (for the same volume) when compared to vegetables or seafood. However, this does not mean that one becomes obese by simply eating red meat. You would have to eat a lot of it, to gain weight, the same idea that applies to just about any food. No, red meat doesn’t contain any instant-obesity qualities the fatten you up the second you consume even one serving size.
2. Red meat is closely linked to body builders. It is a popular belief that if you want to build muscle, you should eat red meat. Yes, it is true that red meat is a dense source of protein. But by simply eating it you are not going to bulk up. If it were this easy to sport big muscles, the weight training floors wouldn’t be crowded with folks pushing heavy barbells. Again, a diet rich in red meat will need to go hand in hand with a good workout routine to gain maximum muscle strength.
Bottom-line: As with all other foods, red meat will be as healthy or unhealthy as the cooking methods used and the portions eaten. Also, eating anything in excess without exercising, will cause weight gain.
2. Myth about Red Meat: Red meat causes high cholesterol
Fact: Red meat does have fat. A small amount of fat is permissible for the body, but excess fat will tilt the weighing scale. It’s onus is on you to choose the right way to cook the meat that will get rid of unwanted fats. The idea is to have lean meat. This will reduce the level of cholesterol. However, cholesterol from animal protein is healthier than cholesterol from trans fats, and plant-based saturated fats.
Therefore, if you are on a low fat diet, then don’t stop at cutting out red meat. You will need to cut out on several oils, butters, mayo, and other fatty dressings as well.
Bottom-line: Over indulgence in fatty red meat regularly causes high cholesterol. The important word to note here is ‘regularly.’ Moderation is key.
3. Myth about Red Meat: Red meat is completely unhealthy.
Fact: If you think red meat has no nutritional value and contains only fats with bad cholesterol, then you are wrong. Red meat is a good source for proteins, vitamin B12, iron and zinc. This means that it makes you stronger, improves and boosts your immunity.
Bottom-line: Consume red meat to increase hemoglobin. It also repairs and builds muscle, but consume in moderation and trim fat.
4. Myth about Red Meat: Red meat is the only source of saturated fats.
Fact: If you have been avoiding red meat only due to its saturated fats, then you’re walking down the wrong path. Red meat has saturated fats, but if you love a dollop of butter on your naan or a tub of ice cream after a meal, then you are piling on unwanted fat – most of it is saturated, even without any red meat involvement. These are fats that will clog up your arteries, causing problems of the heart and the waist.
Bottom-line: If you are eliminating only red meat from your diet you will lose out on the vitamins, hence avoid other foods that are rich in bad saturated fats.
5. Myth about Red Meat: So if red meat is not unhealthy, I can eat as much of it as I want.
Fact: We suggest that you eat red meat in moderation. Therefore pay heed to how much you consume at one time, and how often you consume it. Figuring this out for yourself will depend entirely on your weight, height, physical condition, physical activity level, exercise intensity, and overall diet. In other words, you need to apply the same dieting considerations, as you would any other food, to red meat consumption.
Bottom-line: The thumb rule says you are allowed 90gms of red meat daily, that is an average sized burger patty. But keep in mind that this depends on the aforementioned points.
6. Myth about Red Meat: Red meat causes cancer.
Fact: Some research suggests that excess consumption of red meat causes cancer. But most of these studies do not mention other merits or demerits of the research samples. Mentions of whether the individuals had any form of exercise or other ways to stay fit, are rarely seen.
Some research also claims that grilling red meat causes cancer, which, if it were true, would put a lot many people in danger. On taking a closer look at these studies, it appears that they are talking about carcinogens formed by excessive heat applied to any food, red meat or otherwise. In fact, did you know that some studies even suggested that toasts cause cancer? Apparently, the charred surface creates carcinogens.
Bottom-line: There is no hard hitting evidence to suggest that moderate consumption of red meat causes cancer.
7. Myth about Red Meat: Red meat causes gout.
Fact: Gout is inflammation around the joints, especially in your feet. Though this is a fact, foods rich in fat and cholesterol are rich in purines and therefore may cause gout, you can still moderate your red meat consumption and balance it with regular exercise to remain gout free.
A finer point exists. Gout is usually a direct fall-out of obesity. If a person is already obese and at risk of gout, then by all means red meat consumption must be curtailed as it would only aggravate the condition. But a healthy indiviual who is not overweight and manages his/her health well by eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly, need not cut red meat out completely.
Bottom-line: If you are at risk, avoid gout by drinking plenty of water and balancing the effect of uric acid through a balanced diet.
8. Myth about Red Meat: Red meat is bad for the heart.
Fact: No direct link exists between red meat consumption and poor heart health. A simple explaination is that you can consume fats and increase your calories and bad cholesterol through other foods as well. If you eat lean red meat, within safe limits, and stick to 90gms or less a day, you are safe.
Bottom-line: If you maintain 90gms of lean red meat daily, clubbed with a balanced diet, and exercise, you can rest assured that your heart will not suffer.