|Red meat made its way into the headlines earlier this year when a new World Health Organization (WHO) report classified red meat as “probably carcinogenic” to humans. The report had people asking a lot of questions about whether it’s safe to eat red meat. With dishes such as pot roast and brisket on many holiday menus, I wanted to take some time to cut through the confusion.
First, the report was so easily misinterpreted in the news that the WHO had to issue a clarification to say that red meat is OK in moderation. This is consistent with a WHO report issued in 2002. In other words, not much has changed.
Second, the WHO doesn’t address the type of red meat being consumed. Factory-farmed, grain-fed beef – 97 percent of the beef consumed in the United States – contains hormones, antibiotics, and other supplements. This gets a cow to its slaughter weight faster, which makes it less expensive but also less nutritious. On the other hand, meat from grass-fed, pasture-raised cows has fewer calories, more omega-3 fatty acids, and more vitamin A, vitamin E, beta carotene, and antioxidants. This beef costs more, but it’s healthier, more nutrient dense, more environmentally sustainable, and more humane for the animal.
Third, red meat plays a critical role in Eastern Medicine. Animal meat – beef, pork, lamb, game meat, and even dark poultry – helps treat blood deficiency[ROS1] , which has symptoms that range from dry skin and brittle nails to muscle weakness, menstrual irregularity[ROS2] , anemia, infertility, and iron deficiency. This is because animal meat carries so many of the nutrients that the human body needs, and Eastern Medicine believes that, in order to treat conditions related to blood deficiency, one needs to eat more blood. [ROS3]
In addition, in Eastern Medicine red meat is considered hot, or yang, which means it warms the blood. Consuming “yang” food in the cold, or yin, winter months will help warm the cold and maintain homeostasis in the body.
Finally, it’s important to consider the type of food commonly being consumed along with red meat. If you eat a charred burger made with factory-farmed meat, a bun made from refined flour, and a side of fries cooked in processed vegetable oil, along with a soda, then red meat is only one of several cancer risks in your meal.
Ultimately, red meat – and processed meat such as bacon, as explained in “Ask Your Acupuncturist” – is fine in moderation and as part of a balanced diet that’s high in fruits and vegetables but low in grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. So go ahead and put red meat back on your holiday menu.
Have a happy and healthy holiday season, and I look forward to seeing you in 2016!
[ROS1] The western diagnosis of anemia fits under the umbrella of EM diagnosis of blood deficiency. Since I only diagnose within the context of EM, it’s more appropriate to just say blood deficiency, and then list anemia as a possible symptom of that.
[ROS2]Also mention infertility and iron deficiency since those are very typical conditions I see in clinic.
[ROS3]More that the belief in order to treat blood deficient conditions is to eat more blood.