Agriculturists – particularly those who raise livestock – and their life’s work are often the targets of misinformative media campaigns. Often, we will see negative results from a singular scientific study released and immediately become a talking point of all major news outlets. For years, these outlets have been trusted sources for a household’s knowledge – so it’s no surprise that when red meat became public health enemy #1, it was a direct result of the media touting misinformation. Since that smear campaign, agricultural advocates and investigative scientists alike have been working to repair the good name of red meat.
If you Google “is red meat bad for you?”, the results yield a plethora of web articles from known institutions, medical facilities, and the occasional lifestyle blog. While I know now to look to credible sources for information about my diet, that wasn’t always the case for me. In my first two years of undergrad, I remember counting my weekly servings of red meat and choosing the chicken entrée more often than not because of the fear these articles had instilled in me. It was much easier for me to read one article claiming that red meat should be avoided in the diet than it was to look for more perspectives on the topic. As time went on and I increased my exposure to cattle and pork production, I realized I could not have been more impressionable.
One thing I encourage readers to keep in mind while formulating your own opinions on red meat in the diet is that studies on human diets cannot account for every single genetic and lifestyle factor that may impact a participant’s likelihood of digestive or metabolic disease — diseases which studies frequently tie to consumption of “red and processed meat” products. Many of these studies are dependent on self-reporting from participants. Think back to the last time your physician asked “Do you drink? Smoke? Exercise?” — how easy was it to share with a health professional that you may have been indulging in less-than-healthy habits? There’s a chance that some bad habits went unreported in these studies.
Here’s what we can confidently say about the nutritional value of unprocessed red meat products:
- Pork provides a variety of essential nutrients such as iron, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, zinc, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, and choline
- Popular cuts like pork loin, sirloin, and tenderloin offer around 22-24 grams of protein per 3-ounce serving
- The hogs we raise today have approximately 16% less fat than they did 30 years ago (National Pork Board, n.d.)
- Beef is a great source of vitamins B6 and B12, phosphorous, zinc, niacin, riboflavin, selenium, choline, and iron
- A 3-ounce serving of beef provides approximately 25 grams of protein
- The beef we raise today have approximately 44% less fat than they did 50 years ago (Sandfort)
All of that is to say, when included in a diet balanced with vegetables, grains, and dairy, red meat provides an abundance of nutrients that may be lacking in a meat-free diet. An intensive review of 141 studies from 2000-2020 revealed that individuals with plant-based diets are often deficient in vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, iron, and zinc as these nutrients are not bioavailable in plant foods (Neufingerl, 2021). Knowing what we do about the nutritional qualities of red meats, a well-balanced diet that incorporates pork and/or beef can reliably fulfill nutrient requirements for both children and adults.
The next time media misinformation leads you to believe that red meats have no place in the diet, remember this: moderation is key. You can enjoy red meat products and the multiple powerful nutrients within them!
Emma Zaicow is a first-year veterinary medicine student pursuing a career in large/food animal medicine. Despite not growing up in or around agriculture, she discovered her passion for animal agriculture while pursuing her bachelor’s in Animal Sciences at Purdue University. Follow her journey on Instagram at @dr.zaicow_dvmstudent.
“It’s What’s for Dinner – Beef Nutrients.” Beef, www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com/nutrition/beef-
Neufingerl, Nicole, and Ans Eilander. “Nutrient Intake and Status in Adults Consuming Plant-Based Diets
Compared to Meat-Eaters: A Systematic Review.” Nutrients vol. 14,1 29. 23 Dec. 2021,
“Pork Is a Nutrient-Dense, High-Quality Protein – National Pork Board.” Pork.org,
Sandfort, Melissa. “An Evolution of Lean Beef: Building on a Success Story.” Beef2Live,