For years, limiting red meat consumption has served as the bedrock of almost all dietary guidelines. Want a steak? Chicken is leaner. What about a burger? Sub for salmon. And don’t even think about that thick slab of prime rib.
But carnivore diet followers and protein lovers can guiltlessly give plant-based faux-meats a miss (even those from Kevin Hart’s vegan burger chain), according to a new study that found that red meat might not be the health risk people once thought.
Scientists at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) found that if there is a health risk from eating beef and pork, it’s small.
After scrutinizing decades of research, they concluded eating unprocessed red meat like a pork chop or ribeye is only weakly linked to colorectal cancer, breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, and ischemic heart disease.
Plus, there was no link between eating red meat and stroke, suggests the study, which was published in Nature Medicine (1).
What changed? Here’s the scoop.
What Did the Research Show?
After sifting through 70 years of inconsistent research, scientists at IHME came up with the burden of proof risk function, a new rating system to quantitatively evaluate health risks.
Researchers can use the function to turn any health risk into a single number that translates to a one-through five-star rating system.
“A one-star rating indicates that there may be no true association between the behavior or condition and the health outcome. Two stars indicates the behavior or condition is at least associated with a 0-15% change in the likelihood of a health outcome, while three stars indicates a 15-50% change, four stars indicates at least a 50-85% change, and five stars indicates a more than 85% change,” per the study.
When the IHME used the function to evaluate the potential link between red meat consumption and adverse health outcomes, none warranted greater than a two-star rating.
“The evidence for a direct vascular or health risk from eating meat regularly is very low, to the point that there is probably no risk,” says Dr. Steven Novella, a Yale neurologist and president of the New England Skeptical Society.
Should You Eat Red Meat?
Nutrient-rich red meat delivers a plethora of benefits. Meats like beef, pork, and lamb are rich in protein, and high-protein, low-carb diets have been found to help with weight loss (2). Plus, eating enough protein can help boost testosterone naturally.
Beef also contains key nutrients like selenium which can help improve cognition, zinc for immune and metabolism support, and vitamin B12 to keep you energized.
Just order a side of vegetables with your T-bone. According to the IHME research, the real problem is going HAM on ham. “That is really the risk of a high-meat diet,” says Novella. “Those meat calories are displacing vegetable calories.”