Is red meat bad for me?

This is a student paper and not meant to be taken as health advice. If you are looking for actual health and diet advice please speak to your healthcare team.

“Consumer Paper” written for Communications in Dietetics at Oregon State University and submitted June 12, 2017.


Do you eat red meat or ever wonder how healthy it is to eat?

We live in a health-crazed society and want to know as much as we can about our foods. We also expect exact answers from scientists and we want them now, though sometimes that’s just not possible. Even though we have a desire to be informed, we sometimes ignore advice from health professionals. We just do what makes us happy even if we know it may be bad for us.

Many of us enjoy red meat because of how it tastes and it may have been a big part of meals we grew up eating. It’s important to at least know if there’s harm in eating too much, too little, or if eating any amount of red meat is bad for us. Red meat does provide some benefits, such as being a good source for protein, vitamins, and minerals.1 However, the bad side of eating red meat is it makes you more likely to have heart disease and long-term liver disease. It also encourages the growth of some cancers, and can increase your chances of dying.2,3

So. . . should we eat it or not?

It really boils down to what you want from your relationship with red meat. If you decide you don’t want to eat red meat at all and you can live without it, there are other meat and non-meat options. If you can’t or don’t want to remove red meat from your diet, there are things you can do to lessen the likelihood of having health problems:

  • Avoid processed meats
  • Avoid overcooking your meat (this doesn’t mean undercook it!)
  • Trim and drain excess fat
  • Eat red meat in moderation

Which meats are red, which are white, and which are processed?

It’s important to know which are red meats so you can decide if you want to or need to make changes to the way you eat. Red meats include beef, lamb, and bison. Pork is usually included in the “red meats” category as well.

White meats include chicken, salmon, eggs, shrimp, and other seafood, just to name a few.

Processed meats include foods like hotdogs, sausage, jerky, bacon, sliced deli/sandwich meats, and pepperoni. Processed red meats can be the most likely types of red meat to cause health problems.4 So, if you’re willing to cut out any red meats from your diet, processed red meats would be a good place to start.

Why does the way I cook it matter?

Before even starting to cook, it’s a good idea to look for lean meats at the grocery store. Red meat can be high in unhealthy fats so buying leaner varieties can cut down on how much of these fats we eat. Also, trimming the extra fat off steaks before cooking, for example, can also help reduce the amount of unhealthy fat.

Cooking meat at very high temperatures or for long periods of time can cause the meat to change and become harmful.5 Overcooking can change the meat and turn some of it into material that helps cancer grow.6

Cooking methods to avoid include:

  • Grilling or barbecuing
  • Cooking in a smoker
  • Broiling
  • Pan-frying

Better options for cooking meat are:

  • Cook the meat at a lower temperature
  • Use moist-heat to cook (such as simmering, stewing, or pot roasting)
  • Avoid over-browning, and don’t cook to well- or very-well-done levels

Dark brown and black charring on the outsides of the meat is what we should be avoiding.

How much red meat is a “moderate” amount?

The best option we have, if we choose to eat red meat at all, is to eat it in moderation. Most people should be ok with consuming red meat in moderation, but what is moderation? A moderate amount is about 2-3 servings of red meat a week.7 A serving is 3 ounces, which many people will compare to a deck of cards or about the size of the palm of your hand, though you can certainly eat less than 3 ounces if you like.

If you choose to not eat any red meats, there are lots of other options out there. You can try eating more white meats in place of red meats. White meat can actually have the opposite effect on our health red meat does. Another option would be to include more non-animal sources of protein like beans, lentils, tofu, nuts, and grains in our diet as substitutions for meat.

Go forth and be healthy!

Health problems can become exaggerated when we add many unhealthy habits to our lives. Eating red meat along with doing things like smoking and eating an imbalanced diet can increase your risk of having health problems.5 The important things to remember are to eat in moderation, know what moderation is, eat a variety of foods, and maintain a balanced diet while staying active. Too much red meat can be harmful to our health so it’s important to keep track of what we’re putting in our bodies.

What should we do?

  • If you’re going to eat red meat:
    • Eat it less frequently
    • Buy lean meats
    • Don’t overcook it
    • Trim off and drain excess fats
    • Avoid processed red meats
  • Choose lean protein sources such as fish, poultry, nuts, beans, etc.
  • Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.


  1. Freedman ND, Cross AJ, McGlynn KA, et al. Association of meat and fat intake with liver disease and hepatocellular carcinoma in the NIH-AARP cohort. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2010;102(17):1354-1365. doi:10.1093/jnci/djq301. PMID: 20729477
  2. Sinha R, Cross AJ, Graubard BI, Leitzmann MF, Schatzkin A. Meat Intake and Mortality: A Prospective Study of Over Half a Million People. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(6):562-571. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2009.6. PMID: 19307518
  3. Pan A, Sun Q, Bernstein AM, et al. Red Meat Consumption and Mortality: Results from Two Prospective Cohort Studies. Archives of internal medicine. 2012;172(7):555. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.2287. PMID: 22412075
  4. Li F, An S, Hou L, Chen P, Lei C, Tan W. Red and processed meat intake and risk of bladder cancer: a meta-analysis. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine. 2014;7(8):2100. PMID: 25232394
  5. Tasevska N, Sinha R, Kipnis V, et al. A prospective study of meat, cooking methods, meat mutagens, heme iron, and lung cancer risks. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009;89(6):1884. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2008.27272. PMID: 19369370
  6. John, Esther M. et al. “Meat Consumption, Cooking Practices, Meat Mutagens and Risk of Prostate Cancer.” Nutrition and cancer 63.4 (2011): 525–537. PubMed Central. Web. PMID: 21526454
  7. Kappeler R, Eichholzer M, Rohrmann S. Meat consumption and diet quality and mortality in NHANES III. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013;67(6):598-606. doi:10.1038/ejcn.2013.59. PMID: 23486512

This is a student paper and not meant to be taken as health advice. If you are looking for actual health and diet advice please speak to your healthcare team.

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