Is Eating Meat Hazardous to Your Health?

We often see news headlines claiming that certain foods, such as red meat, may be “hazardous” to health. But what do headlines like “hazard” or “risk” really mean and what do you really need to know about them? Let’s decode what these headlines mean and explain the difference between a hazard and a risk.

Kung Pao Beef - a healthy beef meal

Red meat, including beef, is a nourishing food that plays an important role in a healthy diet.

What does “hazard” mean?

A hazard is a potential source of harm or adverse health effect on a person under any circumstance. We deal with hazards in our life every day by walking across busy streets, driving and playing sports. Hazards don’t tell you what the possibility or probability of harm is – they simply answer the question, “could, under any circumstances, this activity cause harm?” Water, a compound we need to survive, could be a hazard – but simply calling it a hazard doesn’t provide the context people need to reduce their likelihood of harm.

What does “risk” mean?

Risk is the likelihood that a person may be harmed or suffer adverse health effects if exposed to a hazard. So while a hazard classifies anything that could be a source of harm, the risk puts that hazard into perspective to help people understand the possible impact of being exposed to it. When recommendations are made about important topics like diet and health, it’s necessary to consider hazard and risk together, to understand the complete story.

Hazard vs Risk, Explained

In this video, Dr. Stuart Phillips explains the difference between a hazard and a risk when it comes to cancer research.


How is risk calculated?

In order to characterize risk, there are a variety of factors considered, including:

  • how often someone is exposed to a hazardous thing or condition
  • how someone is exposed – e.g. eating, drinking, breathing
  • the amount of the exposure

Risk also has to take into consideration “confounders.” These factors are variables which can distort the true risk. For example, in the summer months people eat more ice cream, but there are also more shark attacks. While both ice cream and shark attacks may be related to the summer months, they are not related to each other. They can be considered as confounders and their association leads to a false conclusion.

What do these risks mean for health recommendations?

To calculate risks when it comes to health, all of the available science has to be collected, analyzed and considered before ever making broad recommendations. The different types of studies reviewed are also important. One type of science often looked at is what is known as epidemiological research (or epi research, for short). Epidemiological studies look at populations to investigate potential associations (aka relative risks) between aspects of health (say heart disease or cancer) and diet, lifestyle, and demographics or other factors. Epidemiologic studies are observational in nature – meaning that they only identify associations and can be helpful in generating hypothesis but cannot prove cause and effect. Intervention studies, such as randomized control trials, are considered gold standard evidence because they can test cause and effect. There are several examples in nutrition where intervention studies have disproved hypotheses generated by observational studies.

Should we stop eating certain foods, such as red meat, if we see a headline saying that it’s hazardous to our health?

No—lean red meat, including beef, is a nourishing food that plays an important role in a healthy diet. It’s unrealistic to isolate a single food, including red meat, as a cause or a cure for any single disease. Our total health is determined by a number of factors, including things outside of our control such as age, genetics, socioeconomic characteristics, even where we grew up. Of the things we can control, research shows, the most important factors to focus on are not to smoke, to maintain a healthy body weight, to stay physically active and to eat a healthy, balanced diet of nutrient-rich foods in moderation. And most people eat nutrient-rich beef in moderation already: Americans consume 1.7 ounces of beef daily, on average, and today’s leaner beef offers people the flavor they crave and the nutrition they need.

What does this all mean for you?

Nutrition is complicated and we love to talk about it. But it’s not easy to explain the complexity of food and health in a headline or a tweet. If you have questions about what you should be eating as part of an overall healthy lifestyle in order to decrease your risk of chronic disease, the best advice is to follow a balanced diet and visit with your doctor, registered dietitian or other healthcare professional who can develop an overall healthy lifestyle plan that’s right for you.

Red meat and health. Get the facts.

Myth:  There are many dangers associated with consuming red meat and health, including increased risk for heart disease and higher cholesterol.

The Facts: Red meat and health go hand-in-hand. Eating red meat daily can help lower cholesterol as part of a heart-healthy diet.

The latest research on red meat and health shows that a diet that includes lean beef every day is a part of a heart-healthy diet that is as effective in lowering total and LDL “bad” cholesterol as the gold standard heart-healthy diet (according to DASH – Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). Here’s what you should know about red meat and health: [Read more…]

Is meat consumption out of control, and is it making us unhealthy?

Myth: Meat consumption is too high, and this overconsumption is leading to increased health problems.

There seems to be a lot of talk about how much meat Americans are eating and suggestions that this leads to health issues. You may wonder if we have too much meat on our plates or if a vegetarian diet is the healthier way to go?

The Facts: Contrary to popular belief, protein consumption has remained consistent over the past 40 years. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s report says it all: the daily caloric contribution of flour and cereal products increased by 193 calories per person from 1970 to 2008, compared to only a 19-calorie increase per person from meat, eggs and nuts during the same period. The average American consumes about 5.1 oz of protein foods each day (i.e. from meat, poultry, egg, fish/seafood, nuts and seeds and soy products) and the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends an average of 5.5 oz of protein foods daily.

Furthermore, research suggests many Americans could actually benefit from including high-quality protein, such as lean beef, to their diet because of its positive role in weight management, healthy aging and disease prevention.  A nutritionist and health writer for provides a brief overview of the benefits of lean beef consumption in this article.

Read on for the truth about beef consumption, and how consumption of lean meat, including beef, can positively impact Americans’ diets.

Beef Consumption Patterns

  • Beef Consumption and Healthy Eating: Americans are eating beef in a variety of nutritious eating patterns that can meet health outcomes and goals
    • On average, Americans consume 5.1 oz of protein foods each day (i.e., from meat, poultry, egg, fish/seafood, nuts, seeds and soy products). The Dietary Guidelines recommend at least 5.5 oz of protein foods daily. Therefore, Americans are consuming protein foods within the Dietary Guidelines recommendations.
    • According to NHANES data, Americans consume 1.7 oz of beef daily, on average.
  • Saturated fat and cholesterol: Reports indicate that the proportion of total and saturated fat from meat, poultry and fish has slowly declined, according to this report from the USDA.
    • Beef consumption contributes less than 10% of total fat and saturated fat in the American diet, according to NHANES data.
    • You might be surprised to hear that pizza and grain-based desserts contribute more saturated fat to Americans’ diets than beef.
    • About half the fatty acids found in beef are monounsaturated fatty acids, the same heart-healthy kind found in olive oil.
    • Beef consumption contributes less cholesterol to Americans’ diets (11%) compared to chicken (12%) and eggs (25%), according to the Dietary Guidelines.

Beef Consumption and a Healthy Diet

  • Lean Beef's Competitive Advantage_FINAL ARMS 110415-03Lean beef consumption and heart health: Heart health is top of mind for Americans and recent research shows that including lean beef, even daily as part of a heart-healthy diet and lifestyle, improved cholesterol levels.
    • The BOLD (Beef in an Optimal Lean Diet) study demonstrated that when including lean beef to the most recommended heart-healthy diet, it reduced levels of LDL “bad” cholesterol by 10% from baseline when included as part of a heart-healthy diet and lifestyle containing less than 7% of calories from saturated fat. This is just as effective as the DASH diet, which US News & World Report has recognized as “Best Overall Diet” and “Best Diet for Healthy Eating” and is a gold-standard for heart-healthy eating.
    • Good quality evidence from numerous randomized controlled trials consistently demonstrates that consuming 4-5.5 ounces of lean beef daily, as part of a healthful dietary pattern, supports good health.
  • Powerful nutrients: A substantial body of evidence shows lean beef consumption contributes protein, iron and B-vitamins, which can help keep you full and maintain a healthy weight, build muscles and fuel a healthy and active lifestyle.
    • A 3-oz serving of lean beef provides about half (48%) of the Daily Value for protein, according to the USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory, 2015.
    • For more reasons why eating beef can help fuel an active lifestyle by helping conserve energy and build muscles, read this post.
  • Many of America’s favorite cuts of meat are lean. Lean beef cuts all have less than 10 grams of total fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat, and less than 95 mg of cholesterol per 3 ½-oz cooked serving.
    • Today, 66 percent of beef cuts sold at retail are lean (when cooked and trimmed).
    • Thanks to increased trimming practices, the external fat in retail cuts has decreased by 80 percent in the past 20 years.
      • For example, Sirloin Steak contains 34 percent less fat now than it contained in the 1960s
    • Learn more about lean cuts, including many favorites such as Flank Steak, Strip steak and Sirloin Steak.
This images shows the number of beef cuts that meet the USDA guidelines for lean

The beef community has increased the number of lean beef cuts available to consumers over the past several years, which can be part of a healthy dietary pattern.




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