Red Meat: to eat or not to eat?

What’s the issue?

The consumption of red meat has been a controversial topic for many people. Red meat is the star of the show in many common American dishes, as meats such as beef and pork are in a large portion of meat-based foods and processed meats. These foods hold many vitamins and minerals that our body needs to function as a protein product. So, why have recent recommendations been to decrease consumption of red meat?


What are the benefits?

  • Red meats are a valuable source of vitamins and minerals like protein, iron, and vitamin B12. All of these nutrients have essential functions in the body.
  • The type of iron found in red meat, heme iron, is vital for oxygen transport and hormone production. Heme iron is absorbed easily by the body. Red meat also provides vitamin B12, which is important for making blood and DNA.
  • Red meat is high in protein. Protein is one of the most important macronutrients. It is used in bone and muscle repair and to make hormones and enzymes that allow our body to continue regular processes, such as digestion.


What are the concerns?

  • Red meat consumption has been linked to developing heart disease. Some red meats have high amounts of saturated fat, which can increase low-density cholesterol (LDL), or bad, cholesterol. Steak, ribs, pork chops, and ground beef contain higher LDL levels. People that consume higher amounts of red meat weekly have been associated with an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.
  • Red meat is higher in calories than other protein sources due to the high amount of fat usually found in them. It may be difficult to portion out correctly to compensate for this. For example, non-lean beef has between 75 to 100 calories per ounce, whereas chicken has around 55 calories per ounce.
  • Although this is still highly debated, red meat consumption has also been linked to developing cancer. Some potential causes for this include saturated fat content, carcinogens, which occur when the meat is cooked, and heme iron can produce compounds that can damage cells.


What is a better option?

For many of us, red meat is a staple in our diet. However, the key to red meat consumption is moderation. Some tips for consuming red meat in moderation are:

  • White meat, such as chicken, provides a large amount of nutrients similar to red meat. Seafood, like fresh fish, is also a good swap for red meat.
  • Prepping vegetarian meal options ahead of time can also help us lessen how much meat we consume. Some non-meat protein options include beans, tofu, and whole grains.
  • Keeping red meat portions small and spaced throughout the week. Portion sizes should be limited to around 1 to 2 servings per week, with 6 ounces total being eaten.
  • People with existing heart disease or high cholesterol should limit this to 3 ounces per week, and even less if you choose to eat processed meats.


This article was written by Lauraleigh Guthrie & Tyler Pidde. Lauraleigh and Tyler are first year graduate students in the Cox College Master’s in Nutrition Diagnostics and Dietetic Internship program. 




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