Red meat

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For other uses, see Red meat (disambiguation).

Red meat in traditional culinary terminology is meat which is red when raw and not white when cooked. Red meat also includes the meat of most adult mammals.

An uncooked rib roast.



In gastronomy, red meat is darker-colored meat, as contrasted with white meat. The exact definition varies by time, place, and culture, but the meat from adult mammals such as cows, sheep, and horses is invariably considered red, while chicken and rabbit meat is invariably considered white. The meat of young mammals such as milk-fed veal calves, sheep, and pigs is traditionally considered white; while the meat of duck and goose is considered red.[1] Game is sometimes put in a separate category altogether. Veal calves is traditionally a red meat if it is naturally fed (French: viandes noires — "black meats").[2]


The old determinant of the nutritional definition of the color of meat is the concentration of myoglobin. The white meat of chicken has under 0.05%; pork and veal have 0.1–0.3%; young beef has 0.4–1.0%; and old beef has 1.5–2.0%.[3]

According to the USDA all meats obtained from livestock (i.e., from mammals) are red meats because they contain more myoglobin than chicken or fish.[4]


Red meat contains large amounts of iron, creatine, minerals such as zinc and phosphorus, and B-vitamins: (niacin, vitamin B12, thiamin and riboflavin).[5] Red meat is the richest source of lipoic acid, a powerful antioxidant.[6][dead link]

Red meat contains small amounts of vitamin D.[7] The liver contains much higher quantities than other parts of the animal.

Food pyramid[edit]

The 1992 edition of the USDA food guide pyramid has been criticized for not distinguishing between red meat and other types of meat.[8] The 2005 edition, MyPyramid, recommends lean forms of red meat.[9]

Potential health risks[edit]

Red meat is not a uniform product; its health effects can vary based on fat content, processing and preparation. Processed red meat is strongly linked to higher mortality, mainly due to cardiovascular diseases and cancer.[10] Studies of unprocessed red meat are more recent, and have so far produced mixed results. A 2010 Harvard University study[11] covering over one million people, studied the effect of fresh (unprocessed) versus processed red meat and found processed meat to have significant health risks, but no statistically significant effect for unprocessed red meat. A massive study conducted by the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition and published in 2013 which followed over 400,000 subjects showed increased mortality among subjects that consumed processed meat regularly, but no effect for unprocessed red meat.[10] In contrast, a 2012 study of mainly non-Hispanic white Americans linked unprocessed red meat to an increase in mortality from cancer and cardiovascular disease.[12][13]

Colorectal cancer[edit]

Due to the many studies that have found a link between red meat intake and colorectal cancer,[14][15][16][17][18][19][20][21] the American Institute for Cancer Research and World Cancer Research Fund stated that there is convincing evidence that red meat intake increases the risk for colorectal cancer.[22]

Professor Sheila Bingham of the Dunn Human Nutrition Unit attributes this to the haemoglobin and myoglobin molecules which are found in red meat. She suggests these molecules, when ingested trigger a process called nitrosation in the gut which leads to the formation of carcinogens.[23][24][25] Others have suggested that it is due to the presence of carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines, which are created in the cooking process.[15][26][27] However, this may not be limited to red meat, since a study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that people who ate skinless chicken five times or more per week had a 52% higher risk of developing bladder cancer although not people who ate chicken with skin or other red meats such as hot dogs and Hamburgers.[28]

A 2011 study of 17,000 individuals found that people consuming the most grilled and well-done meat had a 56 and 59% higher rate of cancer.[29]

Other cancers[edit]

There is suggestive evidence that red meat intake increases the risk of oesophageal, lung, pancreatic and endometrial cancer.[22] As a result, WCRF recommends limiting intake of red meat to less than 300g (11 oz) cooked weight per week, "very little, if any of which to be processed."[30]

Some studies have linked consumption of large amounts of red meat with breast cancer,[31][32] stomach cancer,[33] lymphoma,[34] bladder cancer,[35] lung cancer[36] and prostate cancer[35][37][38] (although other studies have found no relationship between red meat and prostate cancer[39][40]).

A 2011 study of almost 500,000 participants found that those in the highest quintile of red meat consumption had a 19% increased risk of kidney cancer.[41]

Cardiovascular diseases[edit]

The postwar Seven Countries Study found a significant correlation between red meat consumption and risk of CHD and marked the beginning of our current understanding.[42]

Many studies associate red meat consumption with cardiovascular diseases. Specifically red meat consumption is associated with ischemic heart disease, stroke,[43] with greater intima-media thickness, (an indicator of atherosclerosis),[35][44] acute coronary syndrome,[45] A significant relationship between red meat and CHD has been found specifically for women,[46]

Processed Meat Vs Unprocessed[edit]

The consensus on the role of red meat consumption to increased risk of cardiovascular diseases has changed in recent years. Studies that differentiate between processed and fresh red meat have failed to find a link between unprocessed red meat consumption and heart disease. A major Harvard University meta-study [47][48] in 2010 involving over one million people who ate meat found that only processed meat had an adverse risk in relation to coronary heart disease. The study suggests that the "differences in salt and preservatives, rather than fats, might explain the higher risk of heart disease and diabetes seen with processed meats, but not with unprocessed red meats."


Some mechanisms that have been suggested for why red meat consumption is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease include: its impact on serum cholesterol,[49] that red meat contains arachidonic acid,[50] heme iron,[51] and homocysteine.,[52] its high content of saturated fat.[35] Bacteria in the digestive tract of people who eat meat have been found to produce a spike in TMAO when supplied with carnitine (abundant in red meat).[53][54][55][56][57][58] TMAO is a metabolite that promotes atherosclerosis, a thickening of the arteries.


A study suggests that eating 50g (1.75 oz) of processed meat per day increases risk of coronary heart disease by 42%, and diabetes by 19%. Equivalent levels of fat, including saturated fats, in unprocessed red meat (even when eating twice as much per day) did not show any deleterious effects, leading the researchers to suggest that "differences in salt and preservatives, rather than fats, might explain the higher risk of heart disease and diabetes seen with processed meats, but not with unprocessed red meats."

Those that eat more than 8 servings of red meat per month are 4.9 times more likely to have cardiac events than those eating less than four servings per month.[59]

A 21-year follow up of about thirty thousand Seventh-day Adventists (adventists are known for presenting a "health message" that recommends vegetarianism) found that people who ate red meat daily were 60% more likely to die of heart disease than those who ate red meat less than once per week.[60]

The risk of coronary disease due to high cholesterol can be mitigated by switching to a leaner red meat. According to one study, funded by the beef producers advocacy group, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, eating lean meat (both red and white) produced nearly identical cholesterol, and triglyceride levels in both groups.[61][62]

Controversial studies[edit]

A 2009 study by the National Cancer Institute found a correlation between the consumption of red meat and increased mortality from cardiovascular diseases, as well as increased mortality from all causes.[63] This study has been criticized for using an improperly validated food frequency questionnaire,[64] which has been shown to have low levels of accuracy.[65][66]


Red meat intake has been associated with an increased risk of type II diabetes.[67][68][69] Interventions in which red meat is removed from the diet can lower albuminuria levels.[70] Replacing red meat with a low protein or chicken diet can improve glomerular filtration rate.[71]

Other findings have suggested that the association may be due to saturated fat, trans fat and dietary cholesterol, rather than red meat per se.[69][72][73] An additional confound is that diets high in processed meat could increase the risk for developing Type 2 diabetes.[74]

One study estimated that “substitutions of one serving of nuts, low-fat dairy, and whole grains per day for one serving of red meat per day were associated with a 16–35% lower risk of type 2 diabetes”.[75]


The Diogenes project used data from ninety thousand men and women over about seven years and found that "higher intake of total protein, and protein from animal sources was associated with subsequent weight gain for both genders, strongest among women, and the association was mainly attributable to protein from red and processed meat and poultry rather than from fish and dairy sources. There was no overall association between intake of plant protein and subsequent changes in weight."[76] They also found an association between red meat consumption and increased waist circumference.

A 1998 survey of about five thousand vegetarian and non-vegetarian people found that vegetarians had about 30% lower BMIs.[77] A 2006 survey of fifty thousand women found that those with higher "western diet pattern" scores gained about two more kilograms over the course of four years than those who lowered their scores.[78]

A ten-year follow up of 80,000 men and women found that "ten-year changes in body mass index was associated positively with meat consumption" as well as with weight gain at the waist.[79] In a Mediterranean population of 8,000 men and women, meat consumption was significantly associated with weight gain.[80] Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed "consistent positive associations between meat consumption and BMI, waist circumference, obesity and central obesity."[81]

A survey of twins found that processed meat intake was associated with weight gain.[82] Western diets, which include higher consumption of red meats, are often associated with obesity.[83][84]

Other health issues[edit]

Regular consumption of red meat has also been linked to hypertension,[35] and arthritis.[35][85]


In some cultures, eating red meat is considered a masculine activity, possibly due to traditions of hunting big game as a male rite of passage.[86]

See also[edit]

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External links[edit]

Look up red meat in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.