Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Lark Health

What is good about meat?

Red meat can have many positive attributes. It can be an excellent source of high-quality protein. Lean meat can be high in protein and fairly low in calories, which can make it attractive for weight control. In addition, it has several vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins such as thiamin (vitamin B1), niacin (vitamin B3), and vitamins B6 and B12, heme (easily absorbable) iron, and zinc.

Why does “meat” not count as a Lark superfood?

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Many kinds of red meat are high in artery-clogging saturated fat. Examples include full-fat ground beef, fatty cuts of beef, such as porterhouse steak, and blade end. Fatty meat can be twice as high in calories as lean cuts. Red meat is also high in cholesterol, which can raise blood cholesterol levels if you eat a lot of saturated fat in your diet. Processed meat is especially suspect, as it contains sodium, nitrates, and often saturated fat, and is linked to chronic health conditions. 

People who eat more meat tend to have a higher body weight [1]. In addition, a body of research suggests that meat consumption may be linked to higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Processed meat is particularly strongly linked to these conditions.

However, not all of the studies separate fatty red meat from processed meat from lean red meat. So, it is unclear whether eating lean red meat, as part of an overall healthy diet, is a risk factor for these and other chronic diseases. Still, researchers have estimated a 13% increased risk of mortality (death) for each daily serving of unprocessed meat [2].

There is another cause for concern with red meat. Cooking it at high temperatures leads to the formation of compounds that may be carcinogenic and increase risk for heart disease. 

Sources of “meat” according to Lark

Red and Processed Meats

These are foods that Lark considers to be “meat.”

  • Fatty and lean beef, pork, and lamb, including ground meat.
  • Processed luncheon meats, such as salami, ham, bologna, pepperoni.
  • Other processed meats, such as hot dogs, frankfurters, sausages, cured bacon.

Tips for keeping meat consumption healthy

Veggie burger

Strategies for making your meat consumption healthier including eating a little less of it and choosing lean, unprocessed options.

  • Extra lean ground beef, top round, loin, and flank steak, and pork tenderloin are lean, unprocessed red meats.
  • Going meatless once a week, if you eat meat every day, or more often if possible, can improve heart health. Plant-based options include veggie burgers and beans.
  • Fish and chicken are other good protein choices.
  • Unprocessed protein sources, even lean red meat, are almost always healthier than processed meats.
  • Grilling and frying can lead to formation of more harmful chemicals. Stewing and steaming are lower-temperature, safer cooking methods.
  • Charred meat is higher in harmful chemicals, so it is best to throw burned pieces away.
  • Swapping a weekly serving of beans, seafood, poultry, reduced-fat dairy, nuts, or even whole grains for red meat can lower mortality risk by 7 to 19 percent [3].
  • Swaps for processed deli or luncheon meat on sandwiches and for snacks can include peanut butter, hard-boiled eggs, leftover cooked chicken breast, beans, string cheese, and other types of cheese.