Skip to content

Bring on the Beef

October 11, 2014

Where’s the beef?

Red meat, which according to the Journal of Meat Science is pork, beef, lamb, offal, large game, and goat, has received a bad rap over the past two decades. Red meat has been associated with cardiovascular disease, obesity, and even cancer; however, emerging research from randomized controlled trials demonstrates the many health benefits to eating red meat, especially for seniors.

red meat 1

Red meat was first termed “unhealthy” due to its saturated fat content; however, all saturated fats are not created equal. There are several different types of saturated fats, with about 80% of the fatty acids in red meats comprised of oliec, steric, and palmitic acid. While consuming isolated palmitic acid does raise LDL (AKA: bad) cholesterol, lean red meat has been shown to affect cholesterol similarly to eating chicken or fish. Moreover, a recent study of over 650,000 people concluded that the connection between saturated fat and heart disease is unfounded (1). In fact, another recent study has demonstrated that industrial trans-fatty acids, diets high in refined starches and sugars, and high sodium intakes are the greatest nutritional contributors to heart disease (2).

A recent controlled trial (3,4) compared the traditional “heart-healthy” DASH diet, which limits red meat to 1 oz per day to a modified DASH diet whereby 5 oz of red meat were consumed every day. The beef-rich was equally effective in reducing cholesterol and more effective than the DASH diet in reducing apolipoprotein B, which are considered a greater indicator of risk for coronary artery disease than LDL cholesterol. This and other randomized controlled trials suggest that lean red meat should be included in part of a balanced diet to manage the risk of cardiovascular disease.

red meat 2

A calorically appropriate diet that is rich in nutrient-dense foods such as minimally processed fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean meats, in conjunction with exercise helps support a healthy weight throughout life.  Red meat has been associated with obesity; however, cofounders such non-discriminatory food selection (i.e.: a McDonald’s cheese burger vs. lean steak), total caloric intake, or physical activity may explain the relationship. On the other hand, Layman and colleagues (5,6) demonstrated no differences in weight loss between white and red meat as part of a higher protein diet (up to 30% of caloric intake) and especially when combined with exercise. These studies suggest that red meat can be successfully incorporated into a weight management diet.

Traditionally red meat, as part of the western diet, was highly associated with cancer risk; however, more accurate models of etiology and the results of a large prospective study presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (7) showed little to no association between fresh (not processed) red meat consumption and cancer risk. A series of more recent studies by Alexander and colleagues also show that the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease is increased with processed, but not whole meat consumption for breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers (8-11).

Relative risk for pancreatic cancer by increasing red meat consumption by 120 g (about 1.2 servings) per day. Note the ambiguity in the findings. 3 studies show a large drop in cancer risk with higher meat intakes. Several studies show minimal to no increased risk. Ultimately, the increased risk of pancreatic cancer is minimal. From: Larson & Wolk. (2012). B. J. Cancer. 106:603-607.

Risk of ovarian cancer with an additional consumption of one serving of red or processed meat (unfortunately, there was no differentiation between the two). Note that there is no increased risk after weighing all the studies. From: Wallin et al., (2011). B J Cancer. 104:1196-1201

This table shows the odds ratio for different cancers (1 denotes no risk, 1 increased risk) when consuming different forms of processed meats. From. Stefani et al. (2012). B J Cancer. 107:1584-88

This table shows the odds ratio for different cancers (1 denotes no risk, > 1 increased risk, and < 1 decreased risk) when consuming different forms of processed meats.
From. Stefani et al. (2012). B J Cancer. 107:1584-88

Red meat is rich in protein, zinc, b-vitamins, and iron which have all been shown to play a role in the preservation of muscle mass, cognitive function, and appetite during aging. A recent study (12) points to the physical benefits to consuming red meat as part of a well-balanced diet. Older adults who consumed at least 40 g of beef per day experienced less weight gain and lost approximately 40% less lean mass than those consuming a low protein diet. In addition to supporting physical function, the consumption of meat, and especially red meat may also help to maintain memory, reasoning, and the ability to learn new information during aging. A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (13) demonstrated that participants who ate a diet rich in animal protein experienced less decline in social activity, intellectual skills, physical function, and risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

The results of a randomized controlled trial provide strong evidence for the inclusion of red meat as part of a healthy diet and exercise program (14). In the study 100 women (aged 60-90) completed 4 months of strength training and ate either a standard diet or a diet containing one 6 oz portion of red meat consumed 6 days per week. The women consuming red meat gained more lean muscle mass and strength, produced more IGF-1 (a hormone important to muscle growth and brain function), and experienced a reduction in inflammation without experiencing any negative changes in cholesterol or blood pressure.

What a gal!

The results of the previously discussed epidemiological and controlled trial studies suggest that the consumption of 3-4 servings of red meat per week as part of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and an exercise program may benefit older adults by preserving muscle mass, enhancing physical function, and preventing the decline in cognitive ability and neural health associated with aging without negatively effecting cardiovascular health. Hetrocyclic amines (HCAs) are one of the primary carcinogens generated by processing/cooking meat. HCAs are not unique to red meat, and baking fish will actually produce more HCAs than baking beef (15). The more meat is processed and the higher the cooking temperature the more HCAs are generated. Thus, to reduce HCA generation, food preparation methods that absorb or detoxify HCAs such as lower cooking temperatures, slow cookers, marinating, rubbing with fresh herbs, turning meats more frequently to reduce surface temperatures, avoiding charcoal grilling, and including side vegetable dishes rich in fiber and flavonoids are a simple means of reducing carcinogens.

Understand as we conclude this brief article that I am not advocating you buy a year’s worth of gift cards and eat at a churrascaria every evening – that is, unless you are inviting me – but, rather that eating meat, as we humans so evolved to do, is part of a healthy, ergogenic diet. So go ahead, and enjoy a juicy slab of beef tonight, and do it for your health!

Jason Cholewa, Ph.D., CSCS

Like Big Red Physical Performance on Facebook

Connect with Dr. Cholewa on Linked In

Access Dr. Cholewa’s Research Publications


[1]. Hoenselaar, R. (2012). Saturated fat and cardiovascular disease: The discrepancy between the scientific literature and dietary advice. Nutrition, 28, 118–123.

[2]. Danaei, G., Ding, E. L., Mozaffarian, D., Taylor, B., Rehm, J., Murray, C. J. L., et al. (2009). The preventable causes of death in the United States: Comparative risk assessment of dietary, lifestyle, and metabolic risk factors. PLoS Medicine, 6e1000058, 1–23.

[3]. Roussell, M. A., Gaugler, T., West, S., Vanden Heuvel, J., & Kris-Etherton, P. (2011). The effects of cholesterol-lowering diets with lean beef on blood pressure and vascular health: Results from the BOLD (Beef in an Optimal Lean Diet) Study. The FASEB Journal, 971, 21 (Supplemental Meeting Abstracts).

[4]. Roussell, M. A., Hill, A. M., Gaugler, T. L., West, S. G., Vanden Heuvel, J. P., Alaupovic, P., et al. (2012). Beef in an Optimal Lean Diet study: Effects on lipids, lipoproteins, and apolipoproteins. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 95, 9–16.

[5]. Layman, D. K., Evans, E., Baum, J. I., Seyler, J., Erickson, D. J., & Boileau, R. A. (2005). Dietary protein and exercise have additive effects on body composition during weight loss in adult women. Journal of Nutrition, 135, 1903–1910.

[6]. Layman, D. K., Evans, E. M., Erickson, D., Seyler, J., Weber, J., Bagshaw, D., et al. (2009). A moderate-protein diet produces sustained weight loss and long-term changes in body composition and blood lipids in obese adults. Journal of Nutrition, 139, 514–521.

[7]. Cho, E., & Smith-Warner, S. A. (2004). Meat and fat intake and colorectal cancer risk: A pooled analysis of 14 prospective studies [abstract]. Proceedings of the 95th Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research; 2004 Mar 27–31. Orlando, Florida (FLA): AACR abstract 491.

[8]. Alexander, D. D., Cushing, C. A., Lowe, K. A., Sceurman, B., & Roberts, M. A. (2009). Meta-analysis of animal fat or animal protein intake and colorectal cancer. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89, 1402–1409.

[9]. Alexander, D. D., Mink, P. J., Cushing, C. A., & Sceurman, B. (2010). A review and metaanalysis of prospective studies of red and processed meat intake and prostate cancer. Nutrition Journal, 9, 50.

[10]. Alexander, D. D., Morimoto, L. M., Mink, P. J., & Cushing, C. A. (2010). A review and meta-analysis of red and processed meat consumption and breast cancer. Nutrition Research Reviews, 23, 349–365.

[11]. Alexander, D. D., Weed, D. L., & Cushing, C. A. (2011). Meta-analysis of prospective studies of red meat consumption and colorectal cancer. European Journal of Cancer Prevention, 20, 293–307.

[12]. Jakobsen, L., Kondrup, J., Zellner, M., Tetens, I., & Rosh, E. (2011). Effect of a high protein meat diet on muscle and cognitive functions: A randomized controlled dietary intervention trial in healthy men. Clinical Nutrition, 30, 303-311.

[13]. Imai, E., Tsubota-Utsugi, M., et al., … Ohkubo, T. (2014) Animal protein intake is associated with higher-level functional capacity in elderly adults: the Ohasama Study. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, Epublished ahead of print.

[14]. Daly, R., O’Connel, S. L., Mundell, N., Grimes, C., Dunstan, D., & Nowson, C. (2014). Protein-enriched diet, with the use of lean red meat, combined with progressive resistance training enhances lean tissue mass and muscle strength and reduces circulating IL-6 concentrations in elderly women: a cluster randomized controlled trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Epublished a head of print.

[15]. Puangsombat, K., Gadgil, P., Houser, T. A., Hunt, M. C., & Smith, J. S. (2012). Occurrence of heterocyclic amines in cooked meat products. Meat Science, 90, 739–746.

From → Articles, Nutrition

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: