If You Eat Red Meat, This is a Must-Read6 months ago | Nutrition
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
Red meat, which includes meats such as beef, veal, lamb, mutton (flesh of sleep), goat, horse and pork, are nutrient-dense sources of protein. And yes, pork is red meat. You might recall a marketing campaign once advertised pork as ‘the other white meat,’ kind of like an alternative to chicken. But the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) classifies pork as red meat.
“One of the proteins in meat, myoglobin, holds the oxygen in the muscle. The amount of myoglobin in animal muscles determines the color of meat. Pork is classified a "red" meat because it contains more myoglobin than chicken or fish. When fresh pork is cooked, it becomes lighter in color, but it is still a red meat. Pork is classed as "livestock" along with veal, lamb and beef. All livestock are considered ‘red meat,’” reports USDA.
Vitamins B12, B3, B6 and zinc, selenium, iron and phosphorus are all nutrients commonly found in red meat. But as you probably know, red meat also contains saturated fats and a vast body of evidence has suggested that a diet high in saturated fat can contribute to obesity and increase the risk of developing metabolic issues such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease.
Moreover, our gut bacteria responds to our frequent consumption of red meat in a way that may be very detrimental to our heart health.
According to a new report from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), gut bacteria produces trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) during the digestion process when we eat red meat. TMAO appears to play a major role in causing heart disease.
“High saturated fat levels in red meat have long been known to contribute to heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. A growing number of studies have identified TMAO as another culprit,” according to the report.
“The exact mechanisms by which TMAO may affect heart disease is complex. Prior research has shown that TMAO enhances cholesterol deposits in the artery wall. Studies also suggest that the chemical interacts with platelets—blood cells that are responsible for normal clotting responses—to increase the risk for clot-related events such as heart attack and stroke.”
The NIH report discusses a study led by the Cleveland Clinic that analyzed how consuming different types of protein influenced the production of TMAO. Study participants included 113 healthy men and women. Participants were put on diets that included either red meat, white meat or non-meat sources of protein. Regardless of the type of protein a participant consumed, each diet consisted of 25% of the calories coming from protein.
People on the red meat diet consumed around eight ounces of steak daily or roughly two-quarter pound beef patties. An eight ounce steak is typically what you would get if you ordered steak at a restaurant. But according to this source, a more appropriate sized steak would be just three to four ounces (about the size of a deck of cards or a bar of soap).
After one month, study participants on the red meat diet showed that they had blood levels of TMAO that were three times higher than the participants on the white meat and non-meat diets.
In order to investigate this more thoroughly, researchers also put half of the participants on high saturated fat versions of the three diets (all diets had equal amounts of calories). Interestingly, the results showed that saturated fat had no effect on blood TMAO levels.
The good news is that if you have elevated TMAO levels, you can reverse this by making the necessary dietary changes.
“When the participants discontinued the red meat diet and ate either the white meat or non-meat diet for another month, their TMAO levels decreased significantly.”
So if you are a meat-eater, particularly a red meat-eater, perhaps you really need to consider cutting back on the amount of red meat you eat. Watch your proportions. The next time you go out to eat and order steak, you might consider sharing that eight ounce steak with your spouse or friend. The majority of your plate should be filled with nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. These nutrient-dense, plant-based foods contain minerals, like magnesium, potassium, calcium and natural sodium, that help keep the heart healthy and functioning properly.
We usually think of the meat as being the ‘star’ of the plate. But in reality, meat should be playing a supportive role to the more healthy foods, like vegetables.
You may want to also consider going vegetarian or vegan for at least one day out of the week. If you need tips and meat-free recipes, check out our blogs on Meatless Mondays here. And you don’t need beef to make a delicious, mouth-watering burger. For meat-free burger ideas, click here.
If you already have heart disease or are at a high risk of it, it might be best to avoid red meat until you get your condition under control. It is best to speak with your doctor or a competent healthcare professional about what foods you include in your diet and what is personally best for you. At your next doctor’s appointment, ask about getting TMAO testing.
And as always, routine nutrient testing will help you determine if you are nutritionally unbalanced (as in having too much or too little of a certain nutrient). Maintaining nutritional balance in the body is extremely important, because having this balance helps ward off all types of illness, including heart disease.
If an imbalance is discovered, a competent healthcare professional can work with you on making the necessary changes to your diet and possibly recommend quality supplements you can take.
Enjoy your healthy life!
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