Red meat

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For other uses, see Red meat (disambiguation).
Thinly sliced raw beef

In gastronomy, red meat is mammal meat which is red when raw and not white when cooked; it includes the meat of most adult mammals.

In the nutritional and agricultural fields, red meat is any meat that has more myoglobin than the white meat from chicken.[dubious ] All meats obtained from mammals (regardless of age) are considered red meats because they contain more myoglobin than chicken breast meat.[1]

Some meats, pork for example, are red meats using the nutritional definition and white meats using the gastronomic definition.


Culinary definition[edit]

The culinary definition has many rules and exceptions. Generally meat from mammals (for example cattle, horse meat, bull meat) and meat from from hunting (wild boars, deer, pigeons, partridges, quail and pheasant) are considered red meat. Although poultry usually considered white, duck and goose are red. For some animals the culinary definition of red meat differs by cut, and sometimes by the age of the animal is when it was slaughtered. Pork is considered red if the animal is adult, but white if young (e.g. suckling pig) the same applies to young lamb, and veal. Game is sometimes put in a separate category altogether. (French: viandes noires — "dark meats".)[2]

Agricultural definition[edit]

Concentration of myoglobin by percentage of mass
Name Myoglobin Category
Chicken Breast 0.005%[3] White Meat [1]
Chicken Thigh 0.18 - 0.20%[3] Dark Meat
Turkey Thigh 0.25 - 0.30%[3] Dark Meat
Pork 0.10 - 0.30%[3] Red Meat[1]
Veal 0.10 - 0.30%[3] Red Meat[1]
Beef 0.40 - 1.00%[3] Red Meat[1]
Old beef 1.50 - 2.00%[3] Red Meat[1]

According to the USDA, all meats obtained from mammals (regardless of cut or age) are red meats because they contain more myoglobin than white meat chicken or fish.[1]

Although the USDA classifies pork as a red meat, given nutritional concerns, meat producers are eager to have their products considered "white", so the United States National Pork Board has positioned their product as "Pork. The Other White Meat", potentially using the confusion over the gastronomic and nutritional definition of red meat to infer that it is a safer product.[4][5]


Red meat contains large amounts of iron, creatine, minerals such as zinc and phosphorus, and B-vitamins: (niacin, vitamin B12, thiamin and riboflavin).[6] Red meat is the richest source of lipoic acid, a powerful antioxidant.[7]

Red meat contains small amounts of vitamin D.[8] The liver contains much higher quantities than other parts of the animal.

USDA recommendations[edit]

The 1992 edition of the USDA food guide pyramid has been criticized for not distinguishing between red meat and other types of meat.[9] The 2005 edition, MyPyramid, was incomprehensible[9] but the accompanying website stated that "fish, nuts, and seeds contain healthy oils, so choose these foods frequently instead of meat or poultry" and for people who wanted to eat meat, it recommended lean or low-fat red meat and poultry.[10]

In 2011, the USDA launched MyPlate, which didn't distinguish between kinds of meat, but did recommend eating at least 8 oz of fish each week.[11][12]

Healthy Eating Plate[edit]

In 2011, the Harvard School of Public Health launched the Healthy Eating Plate to better communicate with the public and to make different recommendations than the USDA, which has to contend with lobbying from many quarters.[11] The Healthy Eating Plate encourages consumers to limit red meat and avoid processed meat, and to instead choose fish, poultry, beans or nuts.[11] Its website says: "Eating a lot of red meat and processed meat has been linked to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and colon cancer. So it’s best to avoid processed meat, and to limit red meat to no more than twice a week. Switching to fish, chicken, nuts, or beans in place of red meat and processed meat can improve cholesterol levels and can lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes.[11]

Human health[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.[13] There is some evidence too that the consumption of unprocessed red meat may have negative health effects in humans.[14]


Epidemiological studies have found that an increased consumption of processed and red meat is associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer. The risk is not associated with white meat like chicken.[15][16] The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) classify red meat consumption as carrying an increased risk of contracting bowel cancer.[17] In the United Kingdom approximately 21% of bowel cancers are associated with red meat consumption.[17] The 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."[18]

There is suggestive evidence that red meat intake might increase the risk of esophageal, pancreatic, stomach, endometrial, lung, and bladder cancer.[19][20][21][22][23]

There is no good evidence that red meat consumption increases breast cancer or prostate cancer risk.[24][25]

Cardiovascular Disease[edit]

Some mechanisms that have been suggested for why red meat consumption is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease include: its impact on serum cholesterol,[26] that red meat contains arachidonic acid,[27] heme iron,[28] homocysteine,[29] and its high saturated fat content. 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).[30][31][32][33][34][35] TMAO is a metabolite that promotes atherosclerosis, a thickening of the arteries.

Red Meat[edit]

Red meat itself contains certain factors that, under certain conditions, produce carcinogens like N-nitroso compounds (NOCs).[36]

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 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.[37][38] 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."

Red meat intake has been associated with an increased risk of type II diabetes.[medical citation needed] Interventions in which red meat is removed from the diet can lower albuminuria levels. Replacing red meat with a low protein or chicken diet can improve glomerular filtration rate.[medical citation needed] Other findings have suggested that the association may be due to saturated fat, trans fat and dietary cholesterol, rather than red meat per se.[39] 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”.[40]

Processed red meat[edit]

Nitrates and nitrites found in processed meat (e.g. bacon, ham, salami, pepperoni, hot dogs, and some sausages) can be converted by our body into nitrosamines that can be carcinogenic, causing mutation in the colorectal cell line, thereby causing tumorigenesis and eventually leading to cancer.[41] Cooking any meat at high temperature and smoking produces the carcinogens polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon compounds (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCA).[42] Likely because of these factors, marinating fresh lean red meat and thoroughly cooking the meat at low temperature will reduce the production of carcinogenic compounds and thereby lower the risk of colorectal cancer.[43][44]

Other health issues[edit]

Regular consumption of red meat has also been linked to hypertension,[medical citation needed] and arthritis.[45]


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.[46]

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ Larousse Gastronomique, first edition
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Iowa State Animal Science". Retrieved 2009-09-16. 
  4. ^ Dougherty, Philip H. "ADVERTISING; Dressing Pork for Success", The New York Times, January 15, 1987. Accessed April 22, 2009.
  5. ^ Hall, Trish. "And This Little Piggy Is Now on the Menu", The New York Times, November 13, 1991. Accessed April 22, 2009.
  6. ^ Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, Red Meats: Nutrient Contributions to the Diet, September 20 BC, [1][dead link]
  7. ^ The Nutrition Reporter newsletter, Alpha-Lipoic Acid: Quite Possibly the "Universal" Antioxidant, July 1996[dead link]
  8. ^ Nutritional composition of red meat
  9. ^ a b Harvard School of Public Health, The Problems with the Food Guide Pyramid and MyPyramid, 2008
  10. ^ "Inside the Pyramid". United States Department of Agriculture. 2005. Archived from the original on 2005-08-01. 
  11. ^ a b c d Harvard School of Public Health, 2012. Food Pyramids: What Should You Really Eat
  12. ^ USDA MyPlate Protein foods Page accessed February 27, 2015
  13. ^ Sabine Rohrmann; Kim Overvad; European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition; et al. (7 March 2013). "Meat consumption and mortality – results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition". BMC Medicine. 11:63 (1): 63. doi:10.1186/1741-7015-11-63. Retrieved March 7, 2013. The results of our analysis support a moderate positive association between processed meat consumption and mortality, in particular due to cardiovascular diseases, but also to cancer. 
  14. ^ Larsson SC, Orsini N (February 2014). "Red meat and processed meat consumption and all-cause mortality: a meta-analysis". Am. J. Epidemiol. (Meta-analysis) 179 (3): 282–9. doi:10.1093/aje/kwt261. PMID 24148709. 
  15. ^ Cross, Amanda. "Meat-related mutagens/carcinogens in the etiology of colorectal cancer.". Environ. Mol. Mutagen. 
  16. ^ Figueiredo, Jane. "Genome-Wide Diet-Gene Interaction Analyses for Risk of Colorectal Cancer.". PLOS Genetics. 
  17. ^ a b "Bowel cancer risk factors". Cancer Research UK. 17 December 2013. Retrieved September 2014. 
  18. ^ "WCRF-AICR Diet and Cancer Report". Retrieved 6 May 2015. 
  19. ^ Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective. p. 116. ISBN 978-0-9722522-2-5. 
  20. ^ Song P, Lu M, Yin Q, et al. (June 2014). "Red meat consumption and stomach cancer risk: a meta-analysis". J. Cancer Res. Clin. Oncol. (Meta-analysis) 140 (6): 979–92. doi:10.1007/s00432-014-1637-z. PMID 24682372. 
  21. ^ Bandera EV, Kushi LH, Moore DF, Gifkins DM, McCullough ML (November 2007). "Consumption of animal foods and endometrial cancer risk: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis". Cancer Causes Control (Systematic review & meta-analysis) 18 (9): 967–88. doi:10.1007/s10552-007-9038-0. PMC 2592095. PMID 17638104. 
  22. ^ Ferrís J, Berbel O, Alonso-López J, Garcia J, Ortega JA (October 2013). "Environmental non-occupational risk factors associated with bladder cancer". Actas Urol Esp (Review) 37 (9): 579–86. doi:10.1016/j.acuro.2013.02.004. PMID 23618510. 
  23. ^ Xue XJ, Gao Q, Qiao JH, Zhang J, Xu CP, Liu J (2014). "Red and processed meat consumption and the risk of lung cancer: a dose-response meta-analysis of 33 published studies". Int J Clin Exp Med (Meta-analysis) 7 (6): 1542–53. PMC 4100964. PMID 25035778. 
  24. ^ Alexander DD, Morimoto LM, Mink PJ, Cushing CA (December 2010). "A review and meta-analysis of red and processed meat consumption and breast cancer". Nutr Res Rev (Review & meta-analysis) 23 (2): 349–65. doi:10.1017/S0954422410000235. PMID 21110906. 
  25. ^ Alexander DD, Mink PJ, Cushing CA, Sceurman B (2010). "A review and meta-analysis of prospective studies of red and processed meat intake and prostate cancer". Nutr J (Review & meta-analysis) 9 (1): 50. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-9-50. PMC 2987772. PMID 21044319. 
  26. ^ Gotto, AM; LaRosa, JC; Hunninghake, D; Grundy, SM; Wilson, PW; Clarkson, TB; et al. (1990). "The cholesterol facts. A summary relating dietary fats, serum cholesterol and coronary heart disease". Circulation 81: 1721–1733. doi:10.1161/01.cir.81.5.1721. 
  27. ^ Leaf, A; Weber, PC (1988). "Cardiovascular effects of n-3 fatty acids". N Engl J Med 318: 549–557. doi:10.1056/nejm198803033180905. 
  28. ^ Malaviarachchi D, Veugelers PJ, Yip AM, MacLean DR (2002). Dietary iron as a risk factor for myocardial infarction. Public health considerations for Nova Scotia. Can J Public Health 93, 267–270.
  29. ^ Verhoef P, Stampfer MJ, Buring JE, Gaziano JM, Allen RH, Stabler SP et al. (1996). Homocysteine metabolism and risk of myocardial infarction: relation with vitamins B6 and B12 and folate. Am J Epidemiol 143, 845–859.
  30. ^ "New Health Culprit Carnitine Found in Red Meat". The Wall Street Journal. 2013-04-07. Retrieved 2013-04-07. 
  31. ^ "It’s Not Just the Fat: There’s Another Way Red Meat May Harm the Heart". Time Magazine. 2013-04-08. Retrieved 2013-04-09. 
  32. ^ "Culprit in Heart Disease Goes Beyond Meat’s Fat". The New York Times. 2013-04-07. Retrieved 2013-04-09. 
  33. ^ "Chemical in Red Meat Linked to Heart Disease". Voice of America. 2013-04-09. Retrieved 2013-04-09. 
  34. ^ "Carnitine chemical, not fat, may explain link between red meat and heart disease". CBS News. 2013-04-08. Retrieved 2013-04-09. 
  35. ^ "Red meat linked to heart disease". NBC News. 2013-04-08. Retrieved 2013-04-09. 
  36. ^ "Inherited Bowel Cancer". 
  37. ^ Micha, R.; Wallace, S. K.; Mozaffarian, D. (1 June 2010). "Red and Processed Meat Consumption and Risk of Incident Coronary Heart Disease, Stroke, and Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis". Circulation 121 (21): 2271– 2283. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.109.924977. PMID 20479151. Retrieved 28 January 2013. 
  38. ^ "Eating processed meats, but not unprocessed red meats, may raise risk of heart disease and diabetes" (Press release). Harvard University Schol of Public Health. 17 May 2010. Retrieved 7 September 2015. 
  39. ^ Hu, F. B.; Van Dam, S.; Liu, R. M. (2001). "Diet and risk of Type II diabetes: the role of types of fat and carbohydrate". Diabetologia 44 (7): 805–817. doi:10.1007/s001250100547. PMID 11508264. 
  40. ^ Pan, A.; Sun, Q.; Bernstein, A. M.; Schulze, M. B.; Manson, J. E.; Willett, W. C.; Hu, F. B. (2011). "Red meat consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: 3 cohorts of US adults and an updated meta-analysis". American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 94 (4): 1088–1096. doi:10.3945/ajcn.111.018978. PMC 3173026. PMID 21831992. 
  41. ^ Raphaëlle, Santarelli. "Processed Meat and Colorectal Cancer: A Review of Epidemiologic and Experimental Evidence.". Nutrition and Cancer. 
  42. ^ "Chemicals in Meat Cooked at High Temperatures and Cancer Risk". National Cancer Institute. 
  43. ^ "Marinades Reduce Heterocyclic Amines from Primitive Food Preparation Techniques". Schor J. 
  44. ^ "Seer Stat Fact Sheets: Colon and Rectum Cancer". National Cancer Institute. 
  45. ^ Pattison, D. J. et al. "Dietary risk factors for the development of inflammatory polyarthritis: evidence for a role of high level of red meat consumption." Arthritis & Rheumatism 50.12 (2004): 3804–3812.
  46. ^ "Real Men Eat Meat". Retrieved 2009-09-16. 

External links[edit]