Is Red Meat Bad For You? Here Are Types You Should (and Shouldn’t) Eat

Good news! Steak is good for you now. Wait — just kidding, it might give you cancer. Except people who eat it a lot might not actually get heart disease as often? Are you confused yet?

The more scientists look into the possible health effects of certain foods, the more it becomes clear that it’s very difficult to say whether or not a food will or won’t make you sick. What we do know is that certain foods’ health benefits make them better options than others. This may be the case with certain kinds of red meat.

So — is red meat good for you, or not? That actually depends on the type of meat and how often you’re eating it. Here are the best and worst kinds of red meat, their health benefits (and risks), and how often you can eat it while staying relatively healthy.

Is red meat bad for your health?

For a long time, researchers have associated eating red meat with an increased risk of heart disease. It appears that people who consume more red meat are less healthy than those who limit their intake.

Some research, however, suggests that people who eat saturated fats found in red meat might actually benefit from them. But this doesn’t mean that all types of red meat are good for you — especially in large amounts.

There are certain types of red meat, such as processed meats, that aren’t as good for you as minimally processed versions such as lean beef.

It’s also possible that past research has given the impression that red meat causes heart disease because of the foods we often eat with them. Think of a traditional breakfast of pancakes, bacon, and eggs. Chances are, you’d add syrup to those pancakes made with white flour, and you’d fry that bacon in vegetable oil.

The saturated fats found in meat aren’t the same as those found in processed snack foods or desserts. Plus, red meat contains protein and essential vitamins and minerals. As a whole, most red meats aren’t “bad” foods. How often you eat them — and the types you choose — might be more important.

Red meat foods you should avoid


Bacon | HandmadePictures/iStock/Getty Images

The good news is, you probably don’t have to stop eating red meat altogether. You can still enjoy the occasional burger or steak. Processed meats, however, should be eaten rarely, if at all. They’re high in sodium, which actually can increase your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.

These risky meats include:

  • Deli ham and other highly processed lunch meats
  • Fried, cured bacon
  • Sausages
  • Hot dogs
  • Beef jerky
  • Canned meat
  • Corned beef.

Again, this doesn’t mean red meat is completely off the table. These are just the worst forms of red meat you could eat on a regular basis if you want to decrease your risk of certain diseases.

Types of red meat you should be eating

You’re more than welcome to eat:

  • Lean beef
  • Pork tenderloin
  • Flank or sirloin steak
  • Buffalo or bison meat.

These foods don’t come with added salt or other preservatives if you’re buying them raw from the grocery store. They’re loaded with healthy ingredients that really can do your body good.

Just be careful about ordering at a restaurant. Different cooking methods — and the sides that typically come with them — might not be the best options to eat more than a few times a month at most.

How much red meat should you eat in a week?

Beef steak

Beef steak | Sergey Nazarov/Getty Images

Even though scientists haven’t been able to directly link red meat consumption to the development of disease (hamburgers don’t “cause” cancer), it’s still believed that paying close attention to how much meat you eat in a week can improve your health over time.

Most experts recommend, therefore, that you should eat no more than 18 ounces (six servings) of red meat per week. This actually means you really can eat red meat every day, with the exception of one “red-meatless Monday.”

On a plate, three ounces of red meat will be about the size of a traditional deck of cards or a bar of soap.

You’re free to eat other forms of quality animal proteins, such as white fish, turkey, and chicken daily if you want to. Just make sure that your preparation methods and what you’re pairing with your meat will benefit your overall health as much as possible. For example, a grilled chicken sandwich with homemade french fries is a much safer option than fried chicken and mashed potatoes that came from a box.