The Case for Red Meat

Red meat does not deserve the bad rap it often gets. In moderation, it's especially good for athletes. Find out why at

"Steak, please," I said as I closed my menu. "Medium. I'll take the sweet potatoes and veggies as my sides."

I settled into a seat across from two of my friends, both of whom ordered a non-red meat dish. As soon as the waiter left, they launched into a tirade about how "red meat was bad for me," and that they "couldn't believe I'd eat something like that."

"Don't you write about health and fitness for a living?" one of them said, aghast. "How can you order something so bad for you?"

Quite easily, actually. Because for every concerned neighbor and family member who tells you that meat is "bad for you," there's a scientific study—or a scientist—who will tell you that perception is bullhooey.

"[The idea that red meat is bad] has been overhyped," says Joy Dubost, R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "A 3-ounce serving of lean beef packs around 150 calories, which is the same as a skinless chicken breast."

Talk to Dubost, or many nutritionists like her, and they'll go on (like she did during a recent telephone conversation) about the health benefits of eating a moderate amount of red meat. Dubost said, "That 3-ounce serving delivers a number of micronutrients. You get over 40 percent of your daily value of B12, which helps maintain nerve tissue, and selenium, a powerful protector against oxidative damage and infection. You're getting about 35 percent of your daily value of zinc, important for growth and development. You're getting around 25 percent of the daily value of B6, needed for red blood cell formation. Iron, important in transferring oxygen to blood cells, you're getting about 12 percent of the daily value. [And] phosphorus, a structural element of bones and teeth, you're getting about 10 percent."

Generally, Dubost says, a skinless, boneless chicken breast does not supply the same amount of those micronutrients.

"But red meat is so fatty!"

Yes, it can be—if you're buying the super-processed stuff, like most deli meats. But if you shop wisely, you'll find 19 cuts of beef that are considered lean, meaning they contain less than 10 grams of fat per serving. The leanest of those cuts actually packs just one more gram of fat than the "lean" chicken breast my friends so proudly ate across the table from me.

Even if you eat a more marbled cut of red meat, you probably won't ingest as much fat as you think. "There has been a lot of [discussion] about how a diet high in beef can drive up your saturated fat and total fat intake," Dubost says. "Beef contributes, generally speaking, on average less than 10 percent of saturated fat and total fat in the diet. If you focus on just the lean cuts, that figure will be even lower."

This doesn't mean you should make all of your protein sources slices of steak. It does mean that if you've been chowing down on chicken breast at every meal, you're probably not getting all of the nutrients you could be getting. Look for ways to include different cuts of lean poultry, meat and fish in your diet. It will keep your taste buds interested and your muscles growing.

"It's all about portion size and variety," Dubost says. "Red meat can be part of a healthy diet, especially for young athletes, for whom it's so important to keep refueling and building muscle."

Dubost's comments made my steak taste even more delicious.

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