In recent years, there have been claims that red meat is unhealthy and potentially cancerous, scaring a number of Australians into giving up their much-loved steak in an attempt to be 'healthier'. Little do they know, this might not be the healthiest choice, especially given that Iron deficiency is one of the most widespread nutritional disorders in the world.
Iron and vitamin B12 insufficiency are on the rise among Australians, particularly affecting young women. Yes, plant sources can contain Iron (even though the bio-availability and absorption are not as strong), however vitamin B12 can only be found in foods derived from animal sources. Both Iron and Vitamin B12 are essential for your health, playing an important role in both your energy levels and metabolism.
Need more convincing? 100g of raw beef also contains 32% of the recommended daily allowance of zinc and other important nutrients. Furthermore, red meat is a complete and high source of protein that is easy to digest and contains all of the essential amino acids that you need for good health and physical performance.
What's the background on these claims?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) released a statement that the consumption of PROCESSED meat contributes to colon cancer (see here). Processed meat includes things like sausages, bacon and deli meats. A good quality steak, or Chief Beef Bars or Biltong (made from top quality meat with no nitrites or harmful chemicals), does not belong in this category.
Most studies were conducted using an ‘average Joe’, who may not be particularly health conscious or savvy. The average consumer buys their meat in a supermarket, because it’s cheaper, not realising that the steak is usually grain fed (thus containing more inflammatory Omega 6 fatty acids), treated with antibiotics and potentially some hormones too!
A popular way to consume meat is to char-grill it, usually with the help of harmful hydrogenated vegetable oils, then add a dollop of sugary sauce, a side of fries and a schooner of beer. In this scenario, it’s hard to tell whether cancer is caused by the meat consumption specifically or by excessive consumption of alcohol, hydrogenated oils, chemicals and additives, a sedentary lifestyle or a combination of all these factors.
Subsequent studies like this one have called into question the validity of the WHO study on the basis of these shortcomings:
These [WHO] recommendations are, however, primarily based on observational studies that are at high risk for confounding and thus are limited in establishing causal inferences, nor do they report the absolute magnitude of any possible effects. Furthermore, the organizations that produce guidelines did not conduct or access rigorous systematic reviews of the evidence, were limited in addressing conflicts of interest, and did not explicitly address population values and preferences, raising questions regarding adherence to guideline standards for trustworthiness.
In my view, it's pretty obvious what's happening. We've been eating meat for hundreds of thousands of years. These days, we're eating less meat as a proportion of our diet than 30 years ago but we're unhealthier than ever before. Maybe, just maybe, it's all that extra processed food? All those vegetable oils?
5 guidelines for healthy red meat consumption
1. Avoid processed meat
Minimise salami, sausages and bacon and opt for a good quality steak from your local butcher or clean products like our beef range (which are not considered "processed meat" because they're free from harmful hydrogenated oils, nitrites and other harmful additives). Although it’s more expensive per kilogram, you will actually save money… on your health. As they say, you can spend your money with the farmer or big pharma!
2. Know where it comes from
Ask your butcher if your meat is grass fed AND grass finished? Try to opt for grass-fed meat (ideally grass finished too) – it has the correct ratio of Omega 3 & 6 fatty acids, with no antibiotics and hormones added.
If you can buy organic which is also grass finished (like our Chief Beef Bars and Biltong), even better, but not all organic meat products are grass finished. Local butchers will be able to tell you exactly where the meat came from, they’re also more likely to have fresher, better quality meat, from environmentally friendly farms.
3. Control your portions
Aim for 80g of uncooked (or 65g cooked) red meat per serving – this is why Chief Beef Bars are the size they are, we start with 80g of raw steak which is dried to create a 40g bar in an ideal portion.
Restaurants will generally serve at least 250g, which is over 3x the recommended amount. Red meat is healthy when enjoyed in smaller amounts. Similar to dark chocolate, one square a day is healthy; a whole block a day is a ‘nutritional disaster’.
4. Preparation is key
With the exception of air drying (how Chief Beef Bars and Biltong are made), slow cooking and pressure-cooking are by far the healthiest methods for cooking red meat. The lower temperature preserves vitamins (particularly B vitamins) and minerals without producing carcinogenic compounds. Stewing is also an option, although some vitamins can be damaged if you stew meat for too long at a high temperature. If you are in a hurry, quick pan-frying using a non-stick pan and a little spray-on oil is also quite healthy.
If you really want to grill or broil (hey, it tastes good!), avoid char-grilling as the compounds produced by cooking at high temperatures and by blackening the meat are inflammatory and carcinogenic. When grilling meat:
- Line the grill with foil, or wrap the food in foil
- Marinate your meat in homemade marinades free of chemicals and added sugar (olive oil, lemon juice and herbs of choice are perfect)
- Don’t burn or chargrill your steak
- If you have to use oil, choose olive, coconut (or any other nut) oil and avoid vegetable oils completely as they’re too high in the inflammatory Omega 6 acids.
Our advice is to try to keep grilling for special occasions only and choose other methods for day-to-day cooking If you want to preserve all vitamins and minerals and avoid harmful by-products of cooking, have your meat air-dried.
5. A healthy steak needs a healthy side-kick
Swap fries for cruciferous veggies to ramp up your intake of fibre, phytochemicals and antioxidants in order to boost your health and reduce cancer risk. Think cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and brussel sprouts as your base, then add any veggies of choice. The more variety, the better and your gut microbiome will thank you for it!
Vitamin C in the vegetables also helps your body to absorb Iron. If you want to supercharge your Iron absorption, squeeze lemon on your steak or use fresh lemon/lime juice in dressings and marinades. Foods containing phytates (cereals and grains), calcium (milk and dairy) and polyphenols (tea and coffee) can hinder iron absorption. Don’t avoid these foods, as they are a part of a healthy diet, just eat them separately from your steak.
Make your own condiments or look for those with low sugar content (less than 5%) and no chemical additives added, like our beef range.