Red meats, usually considered to be beef, pork, mutton, and lamb products, offer nutritional benefits, but eating red meat also raises some health concerns. Choosing lean cuts and cooking meat correctly may offset these concerns. Grass-fed may also be healthier for both the individual and the environment than grain-fed products.
There are numerous nutritional benefits of eating red meat. It is an excellent source of protein, supplies all the essential amino acids, as is more digestible than plant-based protein. Red meats are also a key source of vitamin B12, which is only available in animal products and is key for both red blood cell and nerve health.
Red meat is also a rich source of zinc, selenium, and iron. Zinc aids the immune system and can help with wound healing and shortening the course of diarrhea in some circumstances. Selenium is used in both the immune system and for thyroid function, and is also an antioxidant. Iron assists in transporting oxygen in the blood, and low levels of iron can lead to feeling tired.
Eating red meat, especially lean cuts, may also help people with weight management. It is a satiating food because it combines protein and fats. People who eat red meat may find they feel less hungry.
Though red meat offers many nutritional benefits, health risks of red meat may include the risk of heart disease, breast, and colon cancer. It is usually best to avoid processed meats, such as sausages and bacon. These tend to contain large amount of salt and nitrites, which may impair health.
The method of cooking the meat may play a role in reducing health risks. It is generally recommended not to under or overcook red meat and to avoid grilling. Undercooked meat may contain parasites. Overcooked and grilled meats may contain carcinogens.
When considering red meat and health, another factor is whether the animals were grain or grass-fed. The meat from grass-fed animals has a more favorable ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 essential fatty acids. In addition to being healthier to eat, grass-fed animals frequently have a better quality of life. Grass feeding can be more environmentally sustainable as well.
Many governments suggest the amount of red meat they feel can safely be included in a healthy diet. The amount varies with between nations, but several portions a week are usually acceptable. Those who choose to include eating red meat may wish to choose leaner cuts of grass-fed animals and to trim off any visible fat before eating.