Monday, May 21, 2007
Red meat risks
That's how David Nelson described the scene at the 18th annual World Championship Steak Cook-Off last weekend.
I closed my eyes and tried to imagine the mouth-watering taste and smell of more than 4,000 steaks grilling in Magnolia, Arkansas. My stomach growled just thinking about it. The winning chef, Lance Woolridge, beat 52 other competitors for the top prize of $2,500 and the championship cup. Wooldridge's secret is keeping it simple: a little bit of salt and pepper and don't burn it.
I am an unabashed red meat lover. For the last ten years or so, I've been a pariah for it. Even at my liberal arts college years ago, the vegetarian and pescetarian majority would moan and groan about brisket or burger night. They scowled at me, I smiled and sang my meat song. I still eat my steaks loud and proud, but there may be good reason that I'm in the minority.
While beef can be a good source of protein, zinc, vitamin B-12, iron, magnesium, selenium and phosphorus, it is terribly high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Consider these numbers from the Harvard School of Public Health:
- A 6-ounce Porterhouse steak can give you 38 grams of complete protein, but also 44 grams of fat and 16 of them the bad, saturated kind
- 6 ounces of salmon gives you 34 grams of protein and 18 grams of fat, and only 4 of them bad, saturated fat.
- 1 cup of cooked lentils has 18 grams of protein, but less than 1 gram of fat.
Aside from high fat and cholesterol, eating a lot of red meat has also been associated with heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and higher risks of breast, stomach and colorectal cancers. According to USDA statistics, it seems as if the public has responded to all this bad press. The average per capita beef consumption was highest from 1970 to 1975 at 85 pounds annually. In 1980-85 it was 78 pounds per person. These days, the per capita average is less than 64 pounds annually.
There is a growing body of evidence that suggests how you cook your red meat can contribute to increased risks for cancer. A carcinogen called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons is found in grilled, barbecued and smoked meat (as well as many other foods). And another carcinogen called heterocyclic amines is produced by cooking meat at high temperatures - like pan frying and grilling. Interestingly, chicken and fish cooked in the same way do not have as high a level of carcinogens.
But the question remains is it actually red meat or grilling itself that is the cause of higher disease rates or is eating red meat just emblematic of poorer habits in general? Those same studies have found that people who eat red meat are more likely to smoke and eat fewer vegetables and fruits.
How much steak or red meat do you eat? Do you think eating red meat is unhealthy? Why or why not? Do you avoid red meat? Do you think grilling raises your cancer risk? Do you stick to the recommended portion of 3 ounces or roughly the size of a deck of cards? Do you think vegetarianism is healthier?
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