Red meat

From WikiMD

Red meat in traditional culinary terminology is meat which is red when raw and not white when cooked. Red meat also includes the meat of most adult mammals.

An uncooked rib roast.



In gastronomy, red meat is darker-colored meat, as contrasted with white meat. The exact definition varies by time, place, and culture, but the meat from adult mammals such as cows, sheep, and horses is invariably considered red, while chicken and rabbit meat is invariably considered white. The meat of young mammals such as milk-fed veal calves, sheep, and pigs is traditionally considered white; while the meat of duck and goose is considered red.[1] Game is sometimes put in a separate category altogether. (French: viandes noires — "black meats")[2]


The old determinant of the nutritional definition of the color of meat is the concentration of myoglobin. The white meat of chicken has under 0.05%; pork and veal have 0.1–0.3%; young beef has 0.4–1.0%; and old beef has 1.5–2.0%.[3]

According to the USDA all meats obtained from livestock (i.e., from mammals) are red meats because they contain more myoglobin than chicken or fish.[4]


Red meat contains large amounts of iron, creatine, minerals such as zinc and phosphorus, and B-vitamins: (niacin, vitamin B12, thiamin and riboflavin).[5] Red meat is the richest source of lipoic acid, a powerful antioxidant.[6]

Red meat contains small amounts of vitamin D.[7] The liver contains much higher quantities than other parts of the animal.

Food pyramid

The 1992 edition of the USDA food guide pyramid has been criticized for not distinguishing between red meat and other types of meat.[8] The 2005 edition, MyPyramid, recommends lean forms of red meat.[9]

Human health

Red meat is not a uniform product; its health effects can vary based on fat content, processing and preparation. Processed red meat is strongly linked to higher mortality, mainly due to cardiovascular diseases and cancer.[10] Studies of unprocessed red meat are more recent, and have so far produced mixed results. A 2010 Harvard University study[11] covering over one million people, studied the effect of fresh (unprocessed) versus processed red meat and found processed meat to have significant health risks, but no statistically significant effect for unprocessed red meat. A large study conducted by the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition and published in 2013 which followed over 400,000 subjects showed increased mortality among subjects that consumed processed meat regularly, but no effect for unprocessed red meat.[10]


The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) classify red meat consumption as carrying an increased risk of contracting bowel cancer.[12] In the United Kingdom approximately 21% of bowel cancers are associated with red meat consumption.[12] The WCRF recommends limiting intake of red meat to less than 300g (11 oz) cooked weight per week, "very little, if any of which to be processed."[13]

Red meat consumption also increases the risk of lung cancer.[14]

There is suggestive evidence that red meat intake might increases the risk of oesophageal, pancreatic, stomach, endometrial and bladder cancer.[15][16][17][18]

There is no good evidence that red meat consumption increases breast cancer or prostate cancer risk.[19][20]

Cardiovascular diseases

The postwar Seven Countries Study found a significant correlation between red meat consumption and risk of CHD and marked the beginning of our current understanding.[21]

Many studies associate red meat consumption with cardiovascular diseases. Specifically red meat consumption is associated with ischemic heart disease, stroke,[22] with greater intima-media thickness, (an indicator of atherosclerosis),[23][24] acute coronary syndrome,[25] A significant relationship between red meat and CHD has been found specifically for women,[26]

Processed Meat Vs Unprocessed

The consensus on the role of red meat consumption to increased risk of cardiovascular diseases has changed in recent years. Studies that differentiate between processed and fresh red meat have failed to find a link between unprocessed red meat consumption and heart disease. A major Harvard University meta-study [27][28] in 2010 involving over one million people who ate meat found that only processed meat had an adverse risk in relation to coronary heart disease. The study suggests that the "differences in salt and preservatives, rather than fats, might explain the higher risk of heart disease and diabetes seen with processed meats, but not with unprocessed red meats."


Some mechanisms that have been suggested for why red meat consumption is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease include: its impact on serum cholesterol,[29] that red meat contains arachidonic acid,[30] heme iron,[31] and homocysteine.,[32] its high content of saturated fat.[23] Bacteria in the digestive tract of people who eat meat have been found to produce a spike in TMAO when supplied with carnitine (abundant in red meat).[33][34][35][36][37][38] TMAO is a metabolite that promotes atherosclerosis, a thickening of the arteries.


Those that eat more than 8 servings of red meat per month are 4.9 times more likely to have cardiac events than those eating less than four servings per month.[39]

A 21-year follow up of about thirty thousand Seventh-day Adventists (adventists are known for presenting a "health message" that recommends vegetarianism) found that people who ate red meat daily were 60% more likely to die of heart disease than those who ate red meat less than once per week.[40]

The risk of coronary disease due to high cholesterol can be mitigated by switching to a leaner red meat. According to one study, funded by the beef producers advocacy group, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, eating lean meat (both red and white) produced nearly identical cholesterol, and triglyceride levels in both groups.[41][42]

Controversial studies

A 2009 study by the National Cancer Institute found a correlation between the consumption of red meat and increased mortality from cardiovascular diseases, as well as increased mortality from all causes.[43] This study has been criticized for using an improperly validated food frequency questionnaire,[44] which has been shown to have low levels of accuracy.[45][46]


Red meat intake has been associated with an increased risk of type II diabetes.[47][48][49] Interventions in which red meat is removed from the diet can lower albuminuria levels.[50] Replacing red meat with a low protein or chicken diet can improve glomerular filtration rate.[51]

Other findings have suggested that the association may be due to saturated fat, trans fat and dietary cholesterol, rather than red meat per se.[49][52][53] An additional confound is that diets high in processed meat could increase the risk for developing Type 2 diabetes.[54]

One study estimated that “substitutions of one serving of nuts, low-fat dairy, and whole grains per day for one serving of red meat per day were associated with a 16–35% lower risk of type 2 diabetes”.[55]


The Diogenes project used data from ninety thousand men and women over about seven years and found that "higher intake of total protein, and protein from animal sources was associated with subsequent weight gain for both genders, strongest among women, and the association was mainly attributable to protein from red and processed meat and poultry rather than from fish and dairy sources. There was no overall association between intake of plant protein and subsequent changes in weight."[56] They also found an association between red meat consumption and increased waist circumference.

A 1998 survey of about five thousand vegetarian and non-vegetarian people found that vegetarians had about 30% lower BMIs.[57] A 2006 survey of fifty thousand women found that those with higher "western diet pattern" scores gained about two more kilograms over the course of four years than those who lowered their scores.[58]

A ten-year follow up of 80,000 men and women found that "ten-year changes in body mass index was associated positively with meat consumption" as well as with weight gain at the waist.[59] In a Mediterranean population of 8,000 men and women, meat consumption was significantly associated with weight gain.[60] Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed "consistent positive associations between meat consumption and BMI, waist circumference, obesity and central obesity."[61]

A survey of twins found that processed meat intake was associated with weight gain.[62] Western diets, which include higher consumption of red meats, are often associated with obesity.[63][64]

Other health issues

Regular consumption of red meat has also been linked to hypertension,[23] and arthritis.[23][65]


In some cultures, eating red meat is considered a masculine activity, possibly due to traditions of hunting big game as a male rite of passage.[66]

See also


  1. Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, 1989
  2. Larousse Gastronomique, first edition
  3. Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, Red Meats: Nutrient Contributions to the Diet, September 1990,
  4. The Nutrition Reporter newsletter, Alpha-Lipoic Acid: Quite Possibly the "Universal" Antioxidant, July 1996,[dead link]
  6. Harvard School of Public Health, Food Pyramids: What Should You Really Eat, 2008,
  7. 10.0 10.1
  8. "Eating processed meats, but not unprocessed red meats, may raise risk of heart disease and diabetes", Harvard School of Public Health 2010 press release
  9. 12.0 12.1
  11. Menotti A, Kromhout D, Blackburn H, Fidanza F, Buzina R, Nissinen A, for the Seven Countries Study Research Group (1999). Food intake patterns and 25-year mortality from coronary heart disease: Cross-cultural correlations in the Seven Countries Study. Eur J Epidemiol 15, 507–515.
  12. Fung, T. T. et al. “Prospective study of major dietary patterns and stroke risk in women.” Stroke 35.9 (2004): 2014.
  13. 23.0 23.1 23.2 23.3 Attention: This template ({{cite pmid}}) is deprecated. To cite the publication identified by PMID 10479227, please use {{cite journal}} with |pmid=10479227 instead.
  14. Oh, Sun Min et al. “Association between meat consumption and carotid intima-media thickness in Korean adults with metabolic syndrome.” Journal of Preventive Medicine and Public Health = Yebang Ŭihakhoe Chi 43.6 (2010): 486–495
  15. Kontogianni, M. D. et al. “Relationship between meat intake and the development of acute coronary syndromes: the CARDIO2000 case–control study.” European journal of clinical nutrition 62.2 (2007): 171–177.
  16. Zyriax BC, Boeing H, Windler E (2005). Nutrition is sometimes thought to be a powerful independent risk factor for coronary heart disease in women-The CORA study: a population-based case–control study. Eur J Clin Nutr 59, 1201–1207.
  18. Gotto AM, LaRosa JC, Hunninghake D, Grundy SM, Wilson PW, Clarkson TB et al. (1990). The cholesterol facts. A summary relating dietary fats, serum cholesterol and coronary heart disease. Circulation 81, 1721–1733.
  19. Leaf A, Weber PC (1988). Cardiovascular effects of n-3 fatty acids. N Engl J Med 318, 549–557.
  20. Malaviarachchi D, Veugelers PJ, Yip AM, MacLean DR (2002). Dietary iron as a risk factor for myocardial infarction. Public health considerations for Nova Scotia. Can J Public Health 93, 267–270.
  21. Verhoef P, Stampfer MJ, Buring JE, Gaziano JM, Allen RH, Stabler SP et al. (1996). Homocysteine metabolism and risk of myocardial infarction: relation with vitamins B6 and B12 and folate. Am J Epidemiol 143, 845–859.
  22. Attention: This template ({{cite pmid}}) is deprecated. To cite the publication identified by PMID 6720674, please use {{cite journal}} with |pmid=6720674 instead.
  23. Science Daily, Study Shows Lean Red Meat Can Play A Role In Low-Fat Diet, 1999,
  24. Attention: This template ({{cite pmid}}) is deprecated. To cite the publication identified by PMID 19307518, please use {{cite journal}} with |pmid=19307518 instead.
  25. Attention: This template ({{cite pmid}}) is deprecated. To cite the publication identified by PMID 19752416, please use {{cite journal}} with |pmid=19752416 instead.
  26. Attention: This template ({{cite pmid}}) is deprecated. To cite the publication identified by PMID 2621022, please use {{cite journal}} with |pmid=2621022 instead.
  27. Attention: This template ({{cite pmid}}) is deprecated. To cite the publication identified by PMID 11682365, please use {{cite journal}} with |pmid=11682365 instead.
  28. Song, Y. et al. “A prospective study of red meat consumption and type 2 diabetes in middle-aged and elderly women.” Diabetes Care 27.9 (2004): 2108.
  29. Fung, T. T. et al. “Dietary patterns, meat intake, and the risk of type 2 diabetes in women.” Archives of internal medicine 164.20 (2004): 2235.
  30. 49.0 49.1
  31. de Mello, V. D. F. et al. “Withdrawal of red meat from the usual diet reduces albuminuria and improves serum fatty acid profile in type 2 diabetes patients with macroalbuminuria.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 83.5 (2006): 1032.
  32. Attention: This template ({{cite pmid}}) is deprecated. To cite the publication identified by PMID 11508264, please use {{cite journal}} with |pmid=11508264 instead.
  33. Attention: This template ({{cite pmid}}) is deprecated. To cite the publication identified by PMID 9622343, please use {{cite journal}} with |pmid=9622343 instead.
  34. Schulze, M. B. et al. “Dietary Patterns and Changes in Body Weight in Women.” Obesity 14.8 (2006): 1444–1453.
  35. Attention: This template ({{cite pmid}}) is deprecated. To cite the publication identified by PMID 1381044, please use {{cite journal}} with |pmid=1381044 instead.
  36. Attention: This template ({{cite pmid}}) is deprecated. To cite the publication identified by PMID 16469996, please use {{cite journal}} with |pmid=16469996 instead.
  37. Pattison, D. J. et al. “Dietary risk factors for the development of inflammatory polyarthritis: evidence for a role of high level of red meat consumption.” Arthritis & Rheumatism 50.12 (2004): 3804–3812.

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