Is Red Meat Safe for my Health?
The red color is a physiological property of the meat due to large amounts of a protein called myoglobin. Myoglobin stores oxygen that is used for muscle function. It is estimated that myoglobin levels in white meat of chicken is under 0.05 percent, 0.2 percent in pork and veal, 0.7 percent in young beef and 2.0 percent in old beef. All meat obtained from livestock are considered red meat. Red meat has high level of minerals like iron (which is part of myoglobin molecules) and zinc and other compounds like vitamins and creatine.
Red meat is included in food almost all over the world and is part of regular diet for a large part of human population. Commercialization of cattle rearing and mechanization of meat processing industry has made red meat cheaper and readily available. Moreover, meat processing industry has developed efficient techniques for processing of meat, and relatively inexpensive processed red meat is widely popular in different forms. These developments have made them even more accessible and made them into convenience foods.
However, recent scientific studies reveal that this popularity of red meat and its copious incorporation into diet has come with considerable risk to human health. Epidemiological studies in large populations show that increase in dietary red meat is associated with several diseases including cancers, heart diseases, diabetes and obesity. Although such findings were initially a matter of curiosity, the evidence for these adverse health effects has accumulated and several countries are incorporating it into their health policies.
Scientific studies have revealed some of the reasons why red meat is bad for health. One disease that is closely associated with red meat consumption is colorectal cancer. Several studies have attributed this increase in cancer to chemicals that are abundant in red meat, like myoglobin, hemoglobin and heterocyclic amines, which undergo chemical reactions in our gut. These reactions form products that lead to cancer. Although red meat is mostly associated with colorectal cancer, other cancers such as esophageal, lung and pancreatic cancer also seem to be highly linked to red meat consumption.
Another culprit implicated is red meat associated diseases is the high level of fats and animal protein in red meat. High fat intake has shown a clear link to obesity and diabetes, two scourges of modern day societies. Replacing red meat with white meat and simple fiber rich food can improve several red meat associated problems.
High level of fat in red meat is known to influence cardiovascular diseases. Lean meat, which has less fat content, was suggested as a remedy for this problem. However, one recent report showed that fats might be just part of the problem. A study conducted in Cleveland Clinic in USA showed that intestinal bacteria chemically convert a red meat compound called carnitine into trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO). High level of TMAO in blood leads to atherosclerosis (formation of plaques in arteries) and increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and stroke. Importantly, high levels of blood TMAO was associated with increased red meat or carnitine in diet of humans as well as laboratory animals like mice.
All these evidences show that consuming a lot of red meat in diet is indeed bad for health. Several medical groups suggest that red meat should not be part of daily diet, but can be included occasionally in small amounts. Processed red meat contains several additives that are potentially harmful and should be avoided. Grilled red meat is also known to contribute to diabetes and obesity associated problems.
Increasing fiber content in diet by including vegetables and fruits have shown benefits by reducing colorectal cancers and other diseases associated with red meat. It is a better and wiser choice to include more greens and white meat in our diets, and we can expect healthy dividends over time.
Written by : Sujatha S., Canada (PHD Life Sciences)
Edited by: Rajesh Bihani ( Find me on Google+ )