The idea that there are natural limits to the amount and type of red meat we consume remains controversial, even as many of us now understand this is likely the case. In our time, thoughtful people remain unconvinced that there are significant natural limits to red meat intake, often citing high meat consumption in aboriginal populations and the fact that our body weight can be held at natural levels via a diet that is high in red meat but low in carbohydrates. At the opposite end of the spectrum, others suggest that red meat should not be in our diet at all, and even that a vegan or animal-free diet best optimizes our health.
Since neither of these opposing points of view are supported by a preponderance of science (see, for example, Low-Carb Diets Linked to Atherosclerosis and Critical Look at the China Study), the more pressing question is instead how much and what types of red meat are optimal and best advance our health and longevity. We know that some amount of red meat is natural in humans, a regular part of the diets of many long-lived groups of people today, and potentially offers some health benefits – greatly increasing B-vitamins and minerals like iron, for example. But a wide variety of research suggests that too much red meat, especially of the processed variety, is significantly health-reducing. But how much and what forms of red meat are too much?
A team of researchers at Harvard University has been trying to answer this important health question for some time, notably by examining meat-eating patterns and associated health effects in large longitudinal studies, and their findings have been in the news in the last year. After initially finding a poor correlation between unprocessed red meat intake and health risks in a meta-analysis of 20 prior studies, the team has more recently focused its attention on three large longitudinal studies of over 120,000 American health care workers spanning more than 20 years. In this new round of research, the team has found strong correlations between red meat eating and stroke and diabetes, and with overall, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality, especially when processed meats (any meat preserved by smoking, curing, salting or the addition of preservatives) are considered.
While this research involves reported rather than observed eating habits and examines predominant American eating patterns only (for example, offering limited data on bean-rich diets or natural eating patterned on HumanaNatura’s OurPlate guidelines), the study is quite large and broad – enough so that it has allowed the researchers to significantly control for non-nutritional risk factors and substantially isolate the effects of red meat eating (though not entirely, as this National Institutes of Health article summarizes).
The Harvard researchers theorize that the increased disease and death rates from high (and especially processed) red meat eating are attributable to a high resulting intake of saturated fats, salt, nitrates, and iron. However, since the study showed an association only and not causation, this hypothesis remains to be tested in future research. Importantly, the team’s findings also do not suggest elimination of red meats, only that we control the quantity and quality of meat in our diet – since moderate amounts of non-processed meat consumption were not shown to be significantly associated with increased health risks.
Bottom line: in keeping with HumanaNatura’s OurPlate guidelines, we all need to be moving to a diet that 1) begins with a large foundation of raw vegetables, 2) adds enough lean animal protein foods and tree nuts to meet our protein requirements, and 3) includes enough fruit to allow us to satisfy our remaining caloric needs and achieve a healthy body weight. Not only is this form of eating more natural and far healthier than both high-meat and no-meat alternatives, it is a naturally enjoyable approach to food and easy to maintain throughout our lives.
As part of our Natural Eating guidelines, please note that the following limitations on red meat eating are also part of HumanaNatura’s approach and should be considered when you plan your meals:
Natural Red Meat Limits
- No processed meats
- No added salt when preparing meats
- Limit total daily protein to DRI levels
- 25% limit on protein from red meat and eggs
- Preference to lean free-range meats
- Preference to grass-fed meats
Learn about the Harvard research team’s important work at Red Meat Raises Risk of Early Death and Risk In Red Meat. When you are ready to align your daily diet with modern health science, you can explore creating naturally delicious and optimally nutritious meals through OurPlate, HumanaNatura’s simple healthy eating and meal rating tool, and experience how this science-based and completely natural approach to daily meals can change the way you eat, feel, and live. Perfect your skills at making delicious and naturally healthy salad meals that follow the OurPlate guidelines via the Meals tab above, our popular article Perfect Salad Meals, or the Natural Eating section of our comprehensive Personal Health Program.
Once you have begun eating the HumanaNatura way, we hope you will begin to explore your other opportunities for new, more natural, and healthier life between meals – through HumanaNatura’s complete and naturally open-ended system for lifelong and lifewide health and fitness. Check out our overview at The Four HumanaNatura Techniques.
Photos courtesy of Burgers No Fries and Big & Beefy.
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