Red Meat Doesn’t Just Affect Your Heart Health — It Can Hurt Your Liver, Too

Lean meats

Raw red meat in the worst of all. | Milkos/Getty Images

Hamburgers, ribeyes, and lamb chops, oh my. We get it, sometimes trying to eat healthier and find substitutes for red meat feels a little like sacrificing your favorite foods for little reason.

And while most people site their heart health as the motivation for switching to salmon and veggie burgers, recent research indicates that red meat puts other organs at risk. Namely, your liver.

How much red meat should you really eat?

Yes, red meat has been linked to a host of diet problems. But it packs good nutritional value too, like high protein content and necessary nutrients such as iron and vitamin B12. Experts continually find that red meat can be part of a healthy diet — but you can’t eat it every day, something many people find problematic.

First off, red meat isn’t just found in your favorite double cheeseburger or a fancy steak. Red meat includes beef, yes, but also pork, veal, lamb, goat, and mutton. So there’s no use choosing the lamb chops over filet mignon at dinner if you’re dieting.  “Excess red meat intake has been linked to health issues such as heart disease, elevated cholesterol, digestive issues, and increased cancer risk, especially for colorectal cancers,”  nutritionist Jessica Cording, R.D., told Health24.

There’s plenty of debate on how much red meat you should eat per week, especially considered the topic is extremely subjective. The FDA’s dietary guidelines don’t put a cap on how much you can eat, but they did suggest limiting your saturated fat intake. The American Heart Association put out an official recommendation: no more than 170 grams a day of animal protein including dairy and animal byproducts.

So, how does red meat hurt my liver?

Giphy via Saturday Night Live

Consider your liver the processing plant of your body and it’s primary duty to keep the good nutrients from protein and fats while sending the toxic ones to your kidneys. As we all know, eating too much protein and bad fat can eventually harm your liver. Since red meat is high in both protein and fat, it is a key contributor to potential liver failure.

“Even the leanest cuts of meat are high in fat content,” a LiverDisease.com writing physician, Melissa Palmer, M.D., said. “In fact, approximately 50 to 75% of calories from most red meats actually come from fat.” If you’ve researched healthy fat (like avocados) versus unhealthy fats, you’re well aware that red meat packages saturated fat, one of the worst kinds for your body.

So what can you do to protect your liver without giving up red meat completely?

Albeit more expensive, there are healthier ways to eat red meat than how most Americans do. Opt for the leaner cuts whenever possible (90% lean ground beef and above), limit your red meat consumption to around three servings per week, and avoid eating fried meat at all costs.