How Much Red Meat Should You Really Be Eating Per Week?
- Thanks to high-protein diets, red meat is making a comeback
- Red meat has been linked to a host of health problems, including heart disease, cancers, and diabetes
- It’s also high in protein and nutrients like iron and vitamin B3
- Red meat can be part of a healthy diet—just don’t eat it every day
The carb-hating lifestyle of the paleo or keto diets might leave you feeling like Ron Swanson on Parks and Rec. So. Much. Meat.
And while no one can deny that bacon is delicious, is the whole #grassfedbeef movement actually good for you? We talked to a couple of R.D.s to break down exactly how much red meat is safe to eat per week.
What is red meat?
This might seem like a no-brainer, but: Per the (WHO), red meat is muscle meat that comes from mammals. This includes:
Is red meat bad for you?
Admittedly, there are several downsides to eating red meat. “Excess red meat intake has been linked to health issues such as heart disease, elevated cholesterol, digestive issues, and increased cancer risk, ,” says nutritionist Jessica Cording, R.D. And all of these issues have been backed up by years of research.
Part of this risk comes down to the high levels of saturated fat in most red meats. While consuming higher amounts of saturated fat is no longer believed to increase your risk of heart disease (phew!), saturated fat still affects your blood cholesterol levels.
But as a recent Women’s Health investigation shows, there’s still a LOT up for debate when it comes to how saturated fat impacts your health. So take some of that hype with a grain of salt.
Some other research has also shown that red meat contains a compound called L-carnitine, which can promote plaque formation in your heart — ultimately leading to heart problems.
Other downsides: It can cause inflammation in your gut, increase your risk of type-2 diabetes and shave off up to two years from your life.
Is there anything healthy about red meat?
To be fair, red meat isn’t ALL bad. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA’s) , one three-ounce serving of lean flank steak with the fat trimmed has:
- 165 calories
- 7 grams fat (3 grams saturated)
- 24 grams muscle-building protein
- Nearly 40 percent of your recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamins B6 and B3, to help support the nervous and immune systems
- 10 percent of your daily iron needs to support red blood cell production and metabolism
Of course, the specifics (especially calories and fat) differ depending on what cut of meat you get. A three-ounce serving of grilled porterhouse steak has nine grams of fat (three grams saturated), versus 12 grams of fat (five grams saturated) in a three-ounce with fat trimmed.
“Red meat is also a good source of tryptophan, an amino acid that’s a precursor to mood-regulating neurotransmitter serotonin,” says Cording. It’s not just the thing that makes you sleepy at Thanksgiving—it also helps keep your mood and your sleep levelsbalanced.
How much red meat is safe to eat per week?
There’s a LOT of debate on this topic—making the official guidance incredibly varied. Case in point:
- The FDA’s didn’t put a limit on red meat, but suggest limiting saturated fats to 10 percent of your daily calorie intake, 20 grams of sat fat per day on a 2,000 calorie diet.
- The American Heart Association recommends eating six ounces per day of animal protein (two three-ounce servings)—and to opt for chicken, fish, or plant proteins (like beans) over red meat as much as possible.
- The American Institute for Cancer Research eating no more than 18 ounces of cooked red meat per week—which amounts to about six three-ounce servings.
“If you’re keeping portions in check, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy meat several times per week,” says registered dietician Bonnie Taub-Dix, creator of and author of Read it Before You Eat It – Taking You from Label to Table, who suggests all of us should aim for three three-ounce portions per week. “A good goal might be that if you eat meat daily now, it might be beneficial to try to transition to a meatless dish one day per week.”
Cording is more conservative. While the “right” amount varies from person to person, she generally suggests just eating one to two four-ounce servings of high-quality lean red meat per month. She says more is okay if you’re pregnant or are susceptible to anemia, as long as you prioritise quality and go for leaner cuts. “If once or twice a month sounds too low, start with once a week and give yourself a few months to adjust,” she says.
Both Cording and Taub-Dix encourage buying 100 percent grass-fed beef or lamb. “It may have a slightly better nutrient profile,” says Taub-Dix. Leaner cuts (90 or 95 percent lean) are the obvious pick, since they’re lower in both saturated fat and calories.
If you’re all about the protein, these guidelines might make it seem impossible to get enough. But remember that red meat is exceptionally high in the nutrient—meaning that less is more. Taub-Dix says that the average woman needs just 50 grams per day, and you can get nearly half of that in just one three-ounce portion of lean meat. “Add that to grains, plant proteins, and other protein throughout the day, and that portion of meat at night doesn’t really have to be very big at all,” she says.
Bottom line: There are definitely some health risks to eating red meat, so play it safe and limit your portions to three small servings per week.
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