Recently, red meat has been blamed for many diseases and has been touted as the chief contributor to certain early death. Meat, we have been told, is associated with obesity, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and a host of cancers. Newspapers and magazines incessantly post headlines about the negative health ramifications of eating red meat, fueling fears. For people who care about their health, it becomes easy to begin seeing meat as an unnecessary and harmful vice. Sadly, these claims could not be further from the truth.
Man evolved eating meat. Humans (and their ancestors) have been eating meat for at least one or two million years. This is the premise of the Paleo Diet.
Homo Sapiens have become the most successful species on the planet, with the most complex brains, on an omnivore diet. The fertility and pregnancy foods in all traditional societies both past and present are of animal origin – including milk for the Masai in Kenya, grass fed butter for the Swiss, and fish eggs sought by Peruvian tribes. In fact, anthropologists have yet to identify a human society that has survived living on plant foods alone, even vegan groups have been found to seek out and feed animal products to their women before marriage or during pregnancy.
Whatever your opinion on red meat might be, there are some important nutrients and health benefits to including meat in your diet. Many of these benefits are not unique to red meat, but apply to all animal flesh in general.
Meat is an excellent source of essential nutrients. It contains a wide range of vitamins and minerals.
Beef is a rich source of protein, B vitamins, zinc, and selenium.
100 grams of ground beef contains over 25 grams of protein along with daily values (DV) of multiple nutrients including:
- Vitamin B12: 104% DV
- Niacin (vitamin B3): 29% DV
- Vitamin B6: 19% DV
- Choline: 15% DV
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2): 13% DV
- Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5): 11% DV
- Thiamin (vitamin B1): 3% DV
- Folate: 2% DV
- Vitamin E: 1% DV
- Vitamin K: 1% DV
- Zinc: 57% DV
- Selenium: 37% DV
- Phosphorus: 14% DV
- Iron: 14% DV
- Potassium: 6% DV
- Magnesium: 5% DV
- Copper: 9% DV
- Sodium: 3% DV
- Calcium: 2% DV
- Manganese: 0.5% DV
Protein is essential for muscle growth and repair. It is also necessary for energy production, hormone creation and producing antibodies to protect the body against disease. Animal foods contain all essential amino acids needed by the body in the right proportions. While you can take in protein from plants, not all of these protein sources include a complete amino acid profile. The proteins found in meats contain a complete and balanced profile of amino acids - including the ones you cannot make. Protein from meat, fish, poultry and eggs provides the highest quality and quantity proteins compared to plants relative to calories and variety needed. Eggs have been described as the ‘perfect protein’.
It should be noted that for most people getting adequate protein is not an issue. If you eat a balanced diet including these ingredients, it is not necessary to take protein supplements, shakes or bars to get your body’s complete protein needs.
Iron, in conjunction with vitamin B12, carries oxygen from the lungs to every cell in the body and also helps to make blood and is involved in energy production
Sadly, iron deficiency anemia is a growing epidemic around the world. Even in developed countries where nutrient deficiencies should not be a cause of death, anemia kills thousands every year.
Heme and Non-Heme Iron
There are two types of iron available in food:
Heme Iron: Heme iron is the most bioavailable form of iron, and is found exclusively in meat and other animal foods.
Non-Heme Iron: Non-heme iron is found in plant foods including vegetables, fruits, and nuts. In comparison to heme iron, the body finds it significantly more difficult to absorb.
One of the best health benefits of beef meat is that it contains a substantial amount of heme iron with the richest source being beef liver.
Read on here to learn more about eating organ meats.
Interestingly, anemia disproportionately affects females. This may be partly due to how society seems to shame women who eat meat and ubiquitous imagery of women smiling while eating a bowl of salad!
L-carnitine is a health-promoting compound that the body synthesizes in the liver from the amino acids lysine and methionine .
Beef is the best dietary source, but other animal products also contain relatively high amounts.
Among its numerous functions, L-carnitine plays a role in fat metabolism, transporting fats into your mitochondria where they are burned as fuel.
Although the body can synthesize sufficient amounts of L-carnitine for general needs and deficiencies are rare, research suggests that a higher dietary intake of L-Carnitine may have some positive health impacts. These include heart health, diabetes management and fat loss.
Glutathione is known as your ‘master antioxidant,’ and has been linked :
- Increasing longevity
- Preventing illness
- Reducing the risk of chronic disease
- Strengthening the immune system
Glutathione helps to protect every cell in your body from cellular damage, which can lead to many chronic diseases. A deficiency in glutathione appears to contribute to oxidative stress and inflammation.
The body produces its own glutathione as long as it has adequate levels of the amino acids cysteine, glutamate, and glycine.
These glutathione precursors are each present in beef. Furthermore, beef also is a source of complete (preformed) dietary glutathione.
Carnosine (beta-analyl-L-histidine) is a compound created by the combination of the amino acids alanine and histidine. It is found throughout the body, and it has several important roles in human health.
Carnosine reduces the harms of a process called ‘glycation’ which involves advanced glycation end-products (AGES).
Glycation is central to the aging process and progressively damages your body, potentially leading to atherosclerosis and various other chronic diseases (19, 20).
Additionally, carnosine helps boost the immune system and reduce inflammation. Carnosine is also thought to help prevent fat oxidation within cells.
Red meat is one of the highest sources of carnosine (containing about 50% more than poultry).
Although creatine is often thought of a dietary supplement, beef typically contains 350mg creatine per 100g.
The health benefits of creatine include:
- Improved exercise performance
- Supporting in muscle growth and development
- Providing muscles with greater energy supply and improving endurance
- Increased muscular size
Your liver can produce about 2g creatine per day, with precursors including arginine, glycine, and methionine. Red meat is one of the single most significant dietary sources for these amino acids.
Thus, red meat directly provides creatine to the body and helps the body to make it.
Meat Is Delicious… & Satisfying!
Meat adds flavor and depth to any meal. Everything from lean cuts, to roasts, to morning eggs, to sashimi, to stocks and slow cooked stews can create a well-rounded, delicious and satisfying meal.
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That satisfaction is not just in your head – the combination of high-quality proteins and saturated fats send satiety signals to your brain and your stomach. Being properly nourished also prevents overeating. This means that you are more likely to achieve and maintain a healthy weight for life, if you have a diet you enjoy, rather than trying to follow the latest fads that make you feel deprived and miserable.
Meat (and animal proteins in general) contains many health-promoting compounds, some of which are not often consumed in sufficient amounts.
Humans evolved as a species due to eating red meat. It follows that you need it to enjoy optimum health. Your body designed to function on the nutrients in animal proteins and functions best when fueled with them.
Animal proteins are the most nutrient dense foods you can easily incorporate into your Paleo diet.