The Red Meat Controversy

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February 13, 2013 by fitscript

One of the key aspects of my current challenge is no meat.  As discussed in a previous post, the Okinawan diet includes almost no red meat and they live the longest and healthiest lives of any group of people on the planet.  About a year ago, media outlets including CNN reported on a Harvard study that concluded that reducing red meat consumption can increase lifespan.  The researchers tracked over 120,000 middle-aged participants for up to 28 years (source:

On average, each additional serving of red meat the participants ate per day was associated with a 13% higher risk of dying during the study. Processed red meat products — such as hot dogs, bacon, and salami — appeared to be even more dangerous: Each additional daily serving was associated with a 20% higher risk of dying.

According to reports, approximately 20% of the participants died during the study which lead to the above conclusion.

researchers estimate that substituting one daily serving of red meat with fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, whole grains, or low-fat dairy products would reduce the risk of dying in this stage of life by 7% to 19%. If everyone in the study had slashed their average red-meat intake to less than half a serving per day, the researchers say, 9% of deaths among men and 8% of deaths among women could have been prevented.

In my mind there is definitely something to this study considering the sheer quantity of

Beginnings of Paleo Chili = lots of red meat in a pot

Beginnings of Paleo Chili = lots of red meat in a pot

participants.  However, everything I read about this study really begs a few questions.  To start, the researchers did not differentiate between types of red meat nor did they differentiate between lean and fatty cuts.  I think that is of critical importance because for most people red meat means beef and pork.  The problem with beef is that it is higher in saturated fat which is one of the key factors sited as to why red meat is not healthy.   The other issue with these two meats is that they are mass farmed which means contamination, hormone use for growth and other additives that are not fit for consumption.

I grew-up in a family of hunters, so we did not eat much beef.  We ate venison.  We had everything from deer sausage to my mom’s amazing, best ever meatballs (if you ever ate at my house, yes those were deer meatballs).  When I went to visit my grandparents in Italy as a child, the red meat I remember eating was lamb.  Not just any store bought lamb, but a lamb that my grandparents personally picked from the farmer.  The butcher then came to the house to butcher the meat that we ate that night.  While the ultimate conclusion of the study was to limit, not eliminate red meat, these personal experiences made me question some of the data and implications of not differentiating between types of red meat.

*a little venison salad…yes please

I did a little research on a few alternative red meats and how they compare to beef.  I checked on venison, lamb and bison and here is what is found.

Venison:  A 4oz serving of beef flank steak has 4 grams of saturated fat where venison only has 1 gram.  4oz of a porterhouse steak has 310 calories vs the same amount of venison has 125 calories.  A top sirloin which is a leaner cut of beef still has 240 calories per 4 oz.  Venison also has slightly more iron than beef. (

Lamb:  3oz of broiled beef sirloin has around 4grams of saturated fat while lamb has only 2grams.  3.5oz of trimmed top sirloin is about 313 calories where the fresh lamb shank is about 190 calories. (

Bison: Approximately 3oz of bison is only 2grams of saturated fat. which is about half that saturated fat of beef sirloin.  The calorie difference between the two cuts of meat is 270 for the beef and 145 for the bison.  (

IMG_0623Even prior to my Paleo challenge, I made an effort to limit the amount of red meat I fed my boys, but in reality, I was really limiting the amount of beef we ate, which according the results of the study was wise.  I would argue based on the above information, that the type of red meat being consumed would drastically impact the outcome.  However, I understand for most people access to venison, lamb and bison are not an option, which means you should probably start getting creative in your kitchen with other forms of protein.  Fish anyone?


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