Archive | October, 2012

Why Is Red Meat Bad for You?

3 Oct


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Beef is a staple in the typical Western diet and can be found in hamburger, steak and some processed meats like hot dogs. The term “red meat” is often used interchangeably with beef but may also refer to goat, horse or sheep meat. Despite its rich iron and protein content, red meat can be unhealthy when eaten in excess. Learning why red meat is bad for you allows you to weigh the risks and benefits to make an informed choice about your diet.



Saturated Fat

Like lard, butter and other animal products, red meat is high in saturated fat. According to the Mayo Clinic, excessive consumption of saturated fat raises cholesterol levels, increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. In addition, Harvard School of Public Health states that people who eat more than 18 oz. of red meat per week are at an elevated risk for colon cancer. Frying beef in lard, butter or excessive amounts of oil further increases fat content.

Bacterial Contamination

Like humans, cows naturally harbor bacteria in the intestines. While harmless to their hosts, these bacteria can multiply to dangerous levels during slaughter, cooking or other steps in the handling process. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service lists E. coli, salmonella, staphylococcus and listeria as common culprits in meat-related food poisoning. Symptoms of food-borne illness include vomiting, fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramping. While food poisoning is usually non-fatal, complications like kidney damage and bleeding disorders can sometimes result. Secondary symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea may lead to dehydration, which can be life-threatening if left untreated.

Drugs and Hormones

Animals raised for their meat are sometimes treated with pharmaceutical drugs like antibiotics or hormones. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service states that growth hormones such as estradiol, testosterone and progesterone are approved for use in beef cattle. Antibiotics may also be administered to prevent or treat bacterial diseases that could contaminate meat and cause illness. While these drugs must be discontinued prior to slaughter, trace amounts may remain in some samples.


Most healthy people can enjoy red meat occasionally without harmful effects. To prevent excess fat consumption, Harvard School of Public Health suggests eating red meat sparingly and choosing the leanest cuts possible. Limiting saturated fat from other sources on the days you plan to eat red meat allows you to indulge without exceeding your daily allowance of fat. When handling meat, wash your hands frequently, use a meat thermometer during cooking and follow other basic safety precautions to reduce the risk of contamination. Choosing organic, grass-fed beef may lessen your exposure to drugs used in commercial beef production.