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Red Meat

Red Meat: Better Than You Thought

  • Meat is an American staple, and the meat and poultry industry is the largest segment of United States agriculture. Total meat and poultry production in 2007 reached more than 91.5 billion pounds with annual sales of $143 billion.
  • Although meat contains a significant amount of saturated fat, almost half of the saturated fat is stearic acid which does not raise LDL cholesterol.1 Furthermore, lean meat has much less saturated fat than fatty cuts of meat.1 In addition, meat contains up to 45% cholesterol lowering monounsaturated fat. Lean meat is an excellent source of protein and monounsaturated fat and has less saturated fat than chicken thighs (dark meat).2 (Figure 063)


  • In the US, the term loin or round signifies lean meat. Whereas prime or rib signifies fat cuts with very high saturated fat. It is not often appreciated, that a 6oz portion of lean beef contains less  saturated fat (3g) than a chicken thigh (5g). Chicken and lean beef, but not fatty meat has similar effects on plasma lipoproteins and are interchangeable in a healthy diet.
  • The per capita consumption for meat and poultry is 234 pounds (about 10oz/day) in the US. Of this, turkey accounts for 18 pounds, and chicken 85 pounds. Beef and pork each account for 65 pounds, down from 75 pounds in 1980. As such, decrease in the consumption of beef and pork was not an important contributor to the 70% in coronary artery disease (CAD) observed in the US in the last 35 years.3
  • Many cultures, especially vegetarians, consider meat to be an unhealthy food. Red meat is a source of saturated fat, cholesterol, and heme iron. Red meat consumption is inconsistently associated with development of abdominal obesity, metabolic syndrome, CAD, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer.4-15
  • The meat consumption has been falling in many western countries due to adverse health concerns since the 1970s. Red meat intake in 1995/6 averaged 88 g a day for men and 45 g a day for women in Australia. Red meat contributed to less than one-fifth of the dietary fat and saturated fat in the Australian diet and the same may be true for many western countries. 16
  • Surprisingly, the highest intakes of red meat were not at the expense of fruits and vegetables. Vegetable and fruit intake was actually higher among those with higher meat consumers and lower with those of low meat consumers.16 In sharp contrast, processed meat consumption is negatively associated with dietary quality.17
  • The effects of meat intake on different outcomes vary depending upon whether it is a lean or fatty cut of meat as well as whether it is fresh or processed.4 Consumption of processed meats, but not red meats, is associated with higher incidence of CAD and diabetes according to a systematic review and meta-analysis involving 1,218,380 individuals and 23,889 CAD, 2,280 stroke, and 10,797 diabetes cases. 4
  • Processed meat intake was associated with 42% higher risk of CAD and 19% higher risk of diabetes per 50 g serving per day. Consumption of red and processed meat were not associated with stroke.4 100g (3.5 oz) for red meat and 50g (1.8 oz) for processed meat was used as a serving size in this study Table 115 A.4

Table 115 A. Differences Between Red Meat and Processed Meats4 

Per 50 g serving4 Red meat Processed meats 
Total energy Kcal 123 128
Total fat % energy 50 58
Total fat g 7 10
Saturated fat % energy 19 19
Saturated fat g 3 4
Monounsaturated fat % energy 21 25
Monounsaturated fat g 3 5
Protein g 14 10
Cholesterol mg 42 34
Sodium 155 622
Nitrates mg 3 4


  • Unprocessed red and processed meats have differing cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk which may be related more to the higher content of salt and nitrites in the latter. Both meats have nearly similar saturated fat, cholesterol, total fat, and total calorie content.4 The processed meat contains 4-fold higher salt and 50% higher nonsalt preservatives including nitrates, nitrites, and nitrosamines.4
  • Moderate consumption of lean red meat as part of a balanced diet is unlikely to increase risk for CVD or colon cancer, but may positively influence nutrient intakes and long-term health.18


1. Grundy SM, Denke MA. Dietary influences on serum lipids and lipoproteins. J Lipid Res. 1990;31(7):1149-1172.

2. Enas EA. Indian diet and cardiovascular disease: An update. In: Chatterjee SS, ed. Update in Cardiology Hyderabad: Cardiology Society of India.; 2007.

3. Ford ES, Ajani UA, Croft JB, et al. Explaining the decrease in U.S. deaths from coronary disease, 1980-2000. N Engl J Med. Jun 7 2007;356(23):2388-2398.

4. Micha R, Wallace SK, Mozaffarian D. Red and processed meat consumption and risk of incident coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Circulation. Jun 1 2010;121(21):2271-2283.

5. Larsson SC, Wolk A. Meat consumption and risk of colorectal cancer: a meta-analysis of prospective studies. Int J Cancer. Dec 1 2006;119(11):2657-2664.

6. Larsson SC, Orsini N, Wolk A. Processed meat consumption and stomach cancer risk: a meta-analysis. J Natl Cancer Inst. Aug 2 2006;98(15):1078-1087.

7. Sinha R, Cross AJ, Graubard BI, Leitzmann MF, Schatzkin A. Meat intake and mortality: a prospective study of over half a million people. Arch Intern Med. Mar 23 2009;169(6):562-571.

8. Babio N, Sorli M, Bullo M, et al. Association between red meat consumption and metabolic syndrome in a Mediterranean population at high cardiovascular risk: Cross-sectional and 1-year follow-up assessment. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. Sep 26 2010.

9. Wagemakers JJ, Prynne CJ, Stephen AM, Wadsworth ME. Consumption of red or processed meat does not predict risk factors for coronary heart disease; results from a cohort of British adults in 1989 and 1999. Eur J Clin Nutr. Mar 2009;63(3):303-311.

10. Larsson SC, Virtamo J, Wolk A. Red meat consumption and risk of stroke in Swedish women. Stroke. Feb 2011;42(2):324-329.

11. Steffen LM, Kroenke CH, Yu X, et al. Associations of plant food, dairy product, and meat intakes with 15-y incidence of elevated blood pressure in young black and white adults: the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study. Am J Clin Nutr. Dec 2005;82(6):1169-1177; quiz 1363-1164.

12. Wang L, Manson JE, Buring JE, Sesso HD. Meat intake and the risk of hypertension in middle-aged and older women. J Hypertens. Feb 2008;26(2):215-222.

13. Azadbakht L, Esmaillzadeh A. Red meat intake is associated with metabolic syndrome and the plasma C-reactive protein concentration in women. J Nutr. Feb 2009;139(2):335-339.

14. Mannisto S, Kontto J, Kataja-Tuomola M, Albanes D, Virtamo J. High processed meat consumption is a risk factor of type 2 diabetes in the Alpha-Tocopherol, Beta-Carotene Cancer Prevention study. Br J Nutr. Jun 2010;103(12):1817-1822.

15. Aune D, Ursin G, Veierod MB. Meat consumption and the risk of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies. Diabetologia. Nov 2009;52(11):2277-2287.

16. Baghurst K. Red meat consumption in Australia: intakes, contributions to nutrient intake and associated dietary patterns. Eur J Cancer Prev. Jul 1999;8(3):185-191.

17. Cosgrove M, Flynn A, Kiely M. Consumption of red meat, white meat and processed meat in Irish adults in relation to dietary quality. Br J Nutr. Jun 2005;93(6):933-942.

18. McAfee AJ, McSorley EM, Cuskelly GJ, et al. Red meat consumption: an overview of the risks and benefits. Meat Sci. Jan 2010;84(1):1-13.

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