Written by Jacqui Campbell MS, RD, CDN
February is American Heart Month and Friday, February 5, 2016 was Go Red for Women Day. Everyone is encouraged to wear red to raise awareness for heart disease in women. Although we are not recommending you go crazy with red meat, we are encouraging you to take another look at red meat for it’s benefits for heart health. We want to clear up it’s reputation as the enemy.
For years, red meat has been chastised for being higher in fat and cholesterol and more recently the WHO released a statement classifying processed meat and red meat as carcinogenic to humans. The latest dietary guidelines for 2015-2020 no longer place an emphasis on total dietary fat or cholesterol, though they do maintain the recommendation to limit saturated fat in relation to heart health. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends limiting red meat and processed meats to 18oz per week, which breaks down to 4-6 moderate servings per week.
A meta-analysis of 21 studies found that there is not enough evidenced to conclude that saturated fat increases risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Additionally, there has been no consistent evidence showing that saturated fat in red meat increases blood cholesterol. A study of 60,000 Japanese women found the opposite relationship between saturated fat consumption and stroke: the more saturated fat participants ate, the lower their rate of stroke.
Red meat is far from being the enemy, and if choosing grass-fed red meat it actually has several protective factors against CVD.
Grass fed beef…
- Is leaner and therefore lower in total fat and saturated fats.
- Is higher in stearic acid, a saturated fat shown not to increase cholesterol.
- Has 2-3x more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than conventional beef. CLA is a polyunsaturated fatty acid that has antioxidant properties and protects against CVD.
- Has 2-5x more omega-3 fatty acids than grain fed beef. Omega-3’s reduce inflammation and lower risk of CVD by reducing cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure.
- Is higher in carotenoids (precursors to vitamin A) and vitamin E which are both antioxidants. Eating a diet high in antioxidants has been linked to reduced risk of CVD.
Remember, most things can be part of a healthy diet in moderation, so as long as you balancing the rest of your diet red meat can be a great source of protein in a heart healthy diet. It is more important to look at all the sources of saturated fat in the diet, so by following a “Paleoesque™” diet that is dairy free and limited in processed foods you’re already eliminating most other sources of saturated fat.