Who’s Right: Is Meat Good or Bad for You?

Fortified with vitamins or cause of cancer: Here's a lean lowdown on the latest studies to help you determine whether red meat is bad for you to eat.

Who’s Right: Is Meat Good or Bad for You?Andrew Scrivani/Getty Images

What You’ve Heard

Burgers, steaks, hot dogs—red meat is an American diet staple, but our carnivore cravings may be killing us. After tracking food choices of more than 121,000 adults for up to 28 years, Harvard researchers found that people who ate three ounces of red meat every day were about 13 percent more likely to die—often from heart disease or cancer—before the study ended than people who didn’t eat meat. And daily servings of processed meat such as bacon raised the risk of early death by 20 percent. Saturated fat and cholesterol are only the start of meat’s diet dangers. Overloads of iron can threaten the hearts of meat eaters; sodium and nitrates make processed meat even worse. It’s no wonder that many experts recommend reducing or eliminating red meat from your diet.

But Wait …

A 2012 report found that Americans who regularly eat lean beef get more protein, zinc, potassium, and B vitamins than people who don’t. And a 2010 report estimated that lean beef accounts for about 15 percent of the nation’s protein but only about 4 percent of total fat. “Lean meat is a healthy thing,” says Carol O’Neil, PhD, a coauthor of both reports and a professor of human nutrition and food at Louisiana State University.

So What Should You Do?

You can still fit a daily serving of red meat into a healthy diet. Choose lean cuts (see what the hosts of The Doctors TV suggest) and avoid processed meats (bacon, sausage, bologna—anything preserved with salt, curing, or chemicals). With fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to round things out, enjoying a steak isn’t a high-stakes gamble.

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