There’s Good Meat, And There’s Bad Meat

There’s a lot of evidence accumulating regarding which meats are good, or bad, for your health. We seem to understand the basics but it’s nice to start getting data to back up what common sense tells us.

A recent study did indeed suggest what many have thought — that a diet high in red & processed meat worsens heart conditions and causes early death, including from cancer. Published in March 2009, this huge study followed 500,000 people (!) and found that those who ate the red meat equivalent of one hamburger a day had a 30% increase in death over 10 years, mostly from heart disease and cancer. Sausage, cold cuts, and other processed meats also increased the risk. Eating white meats fish, chicken, turkey and other poultry decreased the risk of death by a slight amount.

By the way, red meat includes not just cows but also pork and lamb. But the American diet is mostly blamed on cows.

The issue seems to be the ratio of good fat and bad fat: I’m sure you’ve heard about the recent debate over the bad trans-fats versus the healthier cis-fats. Well, there’s a similar concept with the omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, which are components of cholesterol that you can only get from foods. Omega 3 is the good fatty acid; this is anti-inflammatory and can improve heart disease and cholesterol. It is found in flax oils; nuts such as walnut; and fruits like kiwi, as well as healthier animals and oily cold water fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines. There are two sub-components of omega 3, EPA and DHA, which are considered more anti-inflammatory — and therefore, healthier — than the ALA component. In general, fish oils have more of the good EPA & DHA than the plant-based sources such as flax.

The second fatty acid, omega 6, is also an essential nutrient which you need in small amounts, but it is considered the pro-inflammatory fatty acid.

porkIt’s All About the Ratio

Up until the 19th-20th centuries, a human diet had a ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 that was probably 1:1 or 4:1, and heart disease was very uncommon. Things got severely out of whack in the 20th century with the immense uptake in industrialized cow factories in Western countries. The omega 6 is at least twice as high in these corn-fed cows, and many researchers feel this is a major reason for the rise of heart disease in the Western world. (China’s not too far behind!). Cows that are raised on the gigantic industrial farms and fed unnatural grains and corn have a higher omega 6:3 ratio than cows raised on traditional fields with grasses (4:1 versus 2:1). The Western diet has a omega 6:3 ratio estimated at 10:1 to 30:1!

So, What To Eat?

So, the key issue is to eat foods with more omega 3 than omega 6.  As I said in the beginning, there’s good meat and bad meat. We’ve discussed the pros and cons, now it’s time for you to look at your diet and your health and see if you need to make changes. I think those people who already have heart issues and love their daily  burgers or steaks, they really need to rethink this — it’s now clear that your diet may send you to an early grave.  Some eating basics:

  • White meat is better than red meat
  • Lean red meat is healthier than fattier red meat
  • If you love fatty red meat every day, try to cut back to 2-3 times a week
  • Grass-fed meat usually is healthier than grain/corn fed
  • Free range probably is healthier than mega-farm

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6 thoughts on “There’s Good Meat, And There’s Bad Meat”

  1. Hey Doc Saint Cyr,

    I’ve enjoyed reading your blog for some time, now, especially regarding the issues that are specifc to life in Beijing/ China. The article regarding good meat/ bad meat is probably the only issue I have a strong opinion about, and that comes after spending lots of time reading blogs like: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/ and http://robbwolf.com/ and personally following a “Primal/ Paleo” diet that is high in meats, good fats (meat and nuts), and lots of vegetables, and low in- preferably devoid of- sugar, grains, dairy, legumes… Neolithic inventions. I like your unbiased approach to this topic, despite the existence of scientific studies such as the one mentioned in the second paragraph. I may have been brainwashed by the Paleo/ Primal folks, but I think a rebuttal courtesty of Mark Sisson may be in order: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/red-meat-study/ . These widely published scare studies seem to do a poor job of accounting for, or eliminating variables other than the single factor they’re investigating, and their initial hypotheses are simply based on decades of flawed epidemiological studies of the same nature.

    Meat – well, healthy meat (which is tough to source in China) works for me, so I thought I’d pass on what I’ve read.

    Thank you for all the info you put out

    1. Hi Nick, thanks for the links; that link was pretty interesting. His website is a bit biased, of course, as he’s ultimately trying to sell his book and products. But I like his final conclusion a lot: “The real take home message from this study is this: Don’t be obese, do exercise, don’t smoke, eat plenty of vegetables and fruit, take supplements, avoid processed meats, avoid overcooked meats, eat from a variety of animal foods. (And when you eat red meat or any other meat, try to eat the cleanest form possible because it would appear that the hormone-laced, antibiotic-tainted, grain-fed CAFO meat may slightly increase your risk of CHD and cancer – or not.)”

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