Red meat is symbolic in American culture.  It’s considered a way of life for ranchers, a measure of prosperity for others, and part of deep-rooted eating habits for many.  Yet, outcomes from decades of repeated research have linked animal protein – especially red meat and processed meats like sausage, hotdogs, and bacon – with increased risk for both heart disease and certain cancers.  Isn’t it time to rethink what is at the center of our dinner plates?  Let’s look at some of the compelling reasons to carve out and eat less red meat.

What’s the beef with red meat?

Saturated Fat and Dietary Cholesterol

Animal protein sources, especially fatty cuts of red meat, contain significant amounts of both saturated fat and cholesterol.  These harmful nutrients increase our counts of damaging low-density lipoprotein (LDL), and as a result, increase our risk for heart disease.  Leading cardiovascular health organizations recommend decreasing our intake of these artery-clogging fats.

Heme Iron

Heme iron is the form of dietary iron found in animal protein sources, and it provides another reason to consider moderating our appetite for red meat.  Research shows that as heme iron intake increases, so does the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.  One possible reason for this damaging effect is the fact that the heme iron found in red meat can be readily absorbed by our bodies, leading to the potential for iron overload, and in turn, increasing markers of inflammation.

Carnitine and TMAO

L-carnitine is an abundant substance in red meat that also poses a health concern. When L-carnitine is metabolized by our gut bacteria, it forms trimethylamine-N-oxide, abbreviated as TMAO).  TMAO is under investigation as a contributor to the atherosclerotic process, a narrowing of the arteries caused by a build-up of plaque.

Quantity Matters  

A recent study found that an additional daily intake of 100 g of red meat (about the weight of a deck of playing cards) is associated with a higher risk of all-cause mortality.  Moving towards a less meat-centered intake is a key step towards lowering our risk for heart disease and cancer.  Pritikin’s mantra is, “Progress, not perfection,” and this philosophy certainly applies to meat intake. So, how do you start stepping away from red meat?  Below are five easy steps you can take to begin lowering your red meat intake.

5 Steps to Eat Less Red Meat

Step 1. Get Lean – Replacing fattier cuts with leaner cuts is a good first step.  Instead of prime cuts of red meat, consider leaner cuts such as sirloin tip steak, bottom round steak, or top sirloin.

Step 2. Go Halfsies – Get in the habit of cutting your animal protein serving in half, and share the other half with your dining partner or save it for another meal.  A serving of meat is about the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand.  Cutting your serving of animal protein in half means that you now have room for more vegetables and whole grains on your plate.

Step 3. Go Wild! – Take advantage of spoils from the hunt!  Enjoy lean game meat like venison or grass-fed bison, instead of the beef found at the grocery store.

Step 4. Stretch It Out – Many of our favorite dishes offer easy (and tasty!) opportunities to stretch the amount of red meat we’re eating.  Here are a few examples:

  1. Chili – Enjoy your favorite chili dish with more beans and less meat (and ensure that they’re leaner cuts).  Pritikin Foods’ Bison Chili is a great example of this strategy!
  2. Fajitas – Serve up thin slices of flank steak with grilled bell peppers and onions, wrapped in a warm whole wheat tortilla.
  3. Stir-fry – Combine cooked brown rice with stir-fried veggies, beans, and/or lentils.  Add in a small amount of animal protein like chopped fish or white meat poultry, and you have a filling dish that’s also a thrill for your palate.
  4. Tacos – Load up a soft corn tortilla with beans a small amount of lean meat, along with lettuce, tomatoes, and peppers.  Top with your favorite salsa for an added kick.
  5. Shish Kebabs – Layer a variety of vegetables and white meat chicken breast on skewers.  Grill them up for healthier shish kebabs.

Step 5. Skip a Day – Consider enjoying a day without any red meat or processed meats like bacon and sausage.  Other animal protein alternatives, such as slices of skinless white meat chicken or turkey are easy go-to’s.  You can give plant-based options that mimic the texture of meat a try as well.  Portabella mushrooms, textured vegetable protein (TVP), and soy protein all provide a hearty feel to a dish.

As you mull over options for mealtimes, consider slicing into your overall intake of red meat by applying these five steps.  By moving red meat to the side of your plate and instead putting the focus on veggies and whole grains, you’re helping to lessen its negative impact on your heart and overall health.