One of the hottest trends in the healthy food world is plant-based menu items like the Beyond Burger. They are popping up everywhere—from the drive-thru to the grocery store’s freezer section. Meanwhile, beef’s reputation has taken a severe beating in recent decades.
Why is this protein source so unpopular among the health conscious? Should we really be cutting red meat completely out of our diets? Isn’t it possible that consuming beef could have some health benefits?
According to a study from The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, red meat doesn’t have to be unhealthy as long as you follow one simple rule.
A Look At The Study
For years, scientists have been telling us that red meat is linked to everything from coronary heart disease to a shortened life span to colorectal cancer. The narrative has been that red meat is not appropriate for a heart-healthy diet. But have we been misled?
In 2021, researchers at Penn State wanted to find out if red meat had any health benefits to speak of. So they conducted a randomized, controlled study to investigate the effects of including lean beef in a Mediterranean diet.
The study included 59 participants who tested out four different Mediterranean diets, trying each meal plan for one month at a time with a one-week break in-between.
To measure the body changes in the participants, the researchers drew blood samples and used special technology that measured the number and size of lipoprotein particles in the blood. This tech is extremely accurate at predicting who is at risk of heart disease.
They took those blood samples at the beginning of the study, then after each month of dieting. And they found that certain types of red meat in small portions might actually be healthy.
Here’s How The Diets Broke Down
- The first allowed participants to consume the amount of meat recommended in a typical Mediterranean meal plan—0.5 ounces of beef per day.
- The second diet allowed the average amount of meat that Americans eat—2.5 ounces per day.
- The third diet allowed participants to eat 5.5 ounces of red meat per day.
- The fourth diet included American-style meals and didn’t follow the Mediterranean diet at all.
The Key To A Healthy Diet Containing Red Meat
In the three months participants followed the Mediterranean diet, their daily menu included cooking with olive oil, three to six servings of fruit, and six or more servings of veggies. The beef they ate was either lean or extra-lean.
When the study concluded, researchers found that the Mediterranean diet alone helped every participant when it came to lowering LDL cholesterol. They also noticed that the biggest decrease in so-called “bad cholesterol” came when participants were eating either 0.5 or 2.5 ounces of lean beef per day.
“When you create a healthy diet built on fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods, it leaves room for moderate amounts of other foods like lean beef,” explained study author Jennifer Fleming. “There are still important nutrients in beef that you can benefit from by eating lean cuts like the loin or round, or 93 percent lean ground beef.”
As long as you stick with lean or extra-lean cuts of meat and keep the portions small, adding red meat to a balanced diet truly can have health benefits. Just be sure not to drown your meat in condiments and sauce!