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Is Steak Healthy?

It seems like people are more health-conscious than ever these days. There’s a constant back-and-forth about many of the foods and beverages we consume on a daily basis. One minute you’ll hear that chocolate is bad for you, and the next you’ll hear all about it’s amazing health-giving properties. Red wine is another example. Opinions within the medical community, and amongst the public at large, seem to change constantly.

Steak is yet another example. For every person who talks about red meat being unhealthy, there’s someone else who talks about the obvious health benefits of a quality steak. It’s tough to know who or what to believe.

Recently, however, a number of mainstream medical institutions and newspapers have been talking about the health benefits of a nice, juicy steak. One of the most frequently cited studies was conducted by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The study suggests that beef, when properly incorporated into the diet, can reduce the risk of heart disease and control cholesterol levels, among other health benefits.

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Another study in England found that replacing saturated animal fats with vegetable fats—which earlier had been assumed to be a healthy move—made things more problematic for people with heart problems.

Saturated fats have long been a point of discussion in medical circles, but the fact is, lean beef contains a certain type of saturated fat (called Stearic acid) which can actually benefit the heart, protect against heart disease, and likewise control cholesterol levels. Stearic acid is also present in other common foods, such as olive oil, chocolate, and pork. Studies show that red meat has one of the highest concentrations of this beneficial fat—and the aforementioned study, conducted by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggests that Stearic acid was the reason for the positive benefits.

Looking more closely at the study, people incorporated lean beef into their daily diet for a period of five weeks, after which they experienced an average of a 5% reduction in cholesterol, and a specific reduction of “bad” cholesterol known as LDL. It’s also worth noting that none of the participants gained weight by incorporating beef into their diet.

The authors of the study also drew a clear line between high quality red meat and heavily processed meats, including ham and various types of sausage. The blend of fats in good, unprocessed red meat was found to have a positive impact on heart health.

This isn’t to say that you should eat a steak for dinner every single day (although there are some steak enthusiasts who swear by it). And it’s also true that different people have different dietary needs and requirements. But the idea that steak is an “indulgence,” or a decadent food that doesn’t serve a real nutritional purpose, is misguided. People have known for a long time that good quality red meat can be healthy in the right proportions. The fact that it’s one of the most satisfying and sensational meals out there is an added bonus.

Red Meat vs Processed Meats

Meat has been a vital part of the human diet since the beginning of time and has provided us with a healthy and diverse diet for many generations. When it comes to choosing between red meat and processed meats, there are benefits of both.

Red meat provides essential nutrients and a rich source of protein of high biological values. These particular proteins and nutrients are hard to replicate, and as such, are identified as deficient in some population groups. Processed meat, on the other hand, provides an abundance of flavor and is highly favored in many cultures. The following breaks down the difference further.

Defining Processed Meat

Processed meat is typically anything that has been cured, smoked, salted, dried or canned. Meat included in the ‘processed’ category, include sausages, devon (bologna sausage), salami, hot dogs, ham and bacon, salted or cured meats like corned beef, dried meats like jerky, smoked meats, and virtually any type of meat in a can. Although minced meat like beef, pork, lamb or chicken is not technically known as processed meat, when it is turned into meatballs or burger patties, it is typically blended with other ingredients. As soon as other ingredients are added, the raw, fresh meat then becomes a (technically) processed meat. So you can see the primary definition of processed meat, is when anything is added to fresh meat, it is then classed as processed. Whether it is salt, other meats, fillers, herbs, or has a process that changes its form, these specific changes qualify it as processed.

Why Processed Meat Is Said To Be Bad For You

Like anything in excess, processed foods can be bad for you. Not all processed meats are made equal, however. Technically a processed meatball or hamburger patty could be made using all healthy ingredients, meaning they won’t be purely unhealthy. However, processed meats like hotdogs or similar types of meats can often include large quantities of sodium (salt) and other chemicals which are not found naturally in fresh meat. Some common ingredients in processed meats include sodium nitrite, hydrolysed milk protein, dextrose, sodium phosphate, corn syrup, artificial flavouring, sodium erythorbate and many other preservatives. As a standard rule, buying fresh is almost always going to be a healthier option.

Defining Fresh Red Meat

So, what is fresh red meat? Red meat is classified as meat from domestic animals like cattle, pigs, goats, sheep, as well as deer, kangaroos, and other free-roaming animals. Fresh meat is defined as in its raw form with no added processes or added ingredients. As a general rule, buying foods with the fewest ingredients will be less processed, or in its original form. Fresh meats can be sold with seasonings or sauces, but are not technically classified as processed. A growing trend which is prominent in fresh meat supply is the classification of meat from grass-fed animals. Why are grass-fed animals better to eat? For many years, beef cattle and other farmed animals have been fed grains and processed foods, to ensure they grow to specific sizes and weights, which are passed down to humans through their consumption.

Healthy Benefits Of Fresh Meat Consumption

Grass-fed animals are, of course, fed on grass. Evolution has played a significant part in the diet of animals like cattle, and grass is, of course, the food which they consume naturally. Grass-fed animals have more omega-3 fats than grain-fed cattle. For humans, the ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fats in the body is a crucial factor for our overall health.

Fresh meat when consumed as steak, ribs, chops, or roast, minced or ground form provides high-quality bioprotein and abundant amounts of heme iron. Heme iron is quickly absorbed due to its high biological value. As you may well know, iron is an essential part of any diet and is one of the most under-consumed nutrients in human nourishment.
Meat also contains another critical Vitamin, B-12. B-12 is a crucial vitamin that assists with digestion and production of energy. Lean fresh red meat also helps to increase cardiovascular health, and when combined with a healthy selection of vitamin-rich vegetables and the correct fats and proteins, can help with losing weight, leading you to a healthier outlook.

What Meats Should I Eat?

If you consider the following when choosing which meats to feed to your family, it will create a healthier outlook for all. Choose low-fat, or lean meat and poultry. If you buy processed meats, ensure the ingredients are natural and low in salt. This can be done by making sure they are labelled ‘low in sodium’ or have ‘no added salt’. In addition to a healthy weekly portion of red meats, ensure you also add fresh fish to your diet, as well as high-protein foods like beans, eggs and legumes and green vegetables.

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