What Is Red Meat, Anyway?

Ever wonder what is red meat? It's a healthy staple for some and a forbidden food for others, but let's take a real look at red meat.

Red meat can either take center stage on your plate or it’s banished altogether. There’s a love-hate relationship with red meat as the nutrition messages are mixed on whether to eat it regularly or rarely. But what is red meat, anyway? Let’s take a closer look at red meat and both sides of its health pendulum.

What Would Be Consider Red Meat?

Red meat is reddish in color due to the high amounts of myoglobulin, a protein in meat that holds oxygen in the muscle. Though not all red meat can be identified solely by its color. Pork, for example, is typically considered red meat even though it is light in color after cooking. According to the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americansred meat includes all forms of:

  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Lamb
  • Veal
  • Goat
  • Non-bird game, like venison, bison and elk

Processed red meat is preserved by smoking, curing, salting and/or chemical additives, which includes sausages, luncheon meats, bacon and beef jerky.

Did you know you can make your own beef jerky right at home?

How Bad is Red Meat for Your Health?

Since red meat contains saturated fat and cholesterol, it’s been the center of health controversy for decades. From a health standpoint, the consensus is to limit high fat and processed red meats, and choose leaner cuts whenever possible. Some red meats, such as 95% lean ground beef and the loin cuts of beef and pork, are just as lean as boneless skinless chicken and turkey breast. The key is to eat moderate portion sizes and leaner cuts; aim to limit red meat intake to 18 ounces per week.

Taking precautions when cooking red meat can help reduce the risk of cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that are formed from high heat and charring of the flesh. Trim visible fat from the meat and use medium, indirect heat whenever possible, and try not to overcook it.

Pro tip: To ensure proper and safe cooking temperatures, use a meat thermometer and cook steak to 145-160 degrees and burgers to 160 degrees.

Also, your marinade matters. Try marinating red meat with an acid like lemon juice or vinegar, rather than a marinade with a lot of sugar. Sugary marinades can cause fire flares ups that increase the risk of forming carcinogenic compounds.

Here’s how to make a knock-your-socks-off marinade.

But is Red Meat Important to Eat?

As part of an overall healthy diet, red meat is a valuable, nutrient dense food as it contains protein, as well as heme iron, which is the more easily absorbed type of iron. Heme iron is particularly important for children and women who are or may become pregnant, as well as important vitamins and minerals like B12 and zinc. Here are some other ways you can get more iron in your diet.

Check Out Our Amazing Healthy Beef Recipes
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Vicki Shanta Retelny, RDN
A registered dietitian nutritionist, book author and speaker, Vicki has a passion for helping others embrace simple lifestyle habits that lead to health and happiness. When she is not in the kitchen whipping up tasty, nourishing meals for her family: two children, a husband and pet pug named Stella. Vicki enjoys a soothing face mask, Pilates and the occasional trip to their local sushi hotspot.