Caring Currents

The Skinny on Red Meat: It's Heart Healthy If Not Cured

Last updated: Mar 10, 2010

One of the many charcuterie cases
Image by Kent Wang used under the creative commons attribution share alike license.

Could the subject of red meat and health get any more confusing? This week the American Heart Association presented big news: Processed and cured red meats are seriously bad for the heart. Their recommendation: One serving a week at most.

What I noticed, though, in all the news coverage, is that the bad news overshadowed some surprising good news: Red meat itself is no longer getting such a bad rap.

This is definitely one of those good news/bad news situations, and it's worth taking the time to sort out because following the new suggestions could make a big difference in your family's heart health. (Unless, of course, you're a vegetarian, in which case, come back tomorrow for the next post.)

Bad News First: Cured meats, which means meats smoked, processed with salt, or preserved with preservatives, aren't good for your heart. This warning comes in addition to announcements last year that cured meats raise your cancer risk, particularly your risk of deadly pancreatic cancer. So this is an important warning.

Here's the watch list:

"¢ Sausage
"¢ Bacon
"¢ Ham
"¢ Smoked meats (turkey and chicken, as well as pork and beef)
"¢ Salami, pastrami, and pepperoni
"¢ Cold cuts
"¢ Sandwich meats

Now, the Good News: Fresh red meats aren't nearly as bad for the heart as dietitians used to think. What's really bad for you, the AHA now says, is the salt, the preservatives, and chemical changes that occur as a result of the smoking process. As long as red meat is lean and hasn't been smoked, cured with salt, or preserved with chemicals, it's a healthy source of protein.

What's good to eat: "¢ Lean ground beef
"¢ Steak
"¢ T-bone
"¢ Lean pork chops
"¢ Pork loin
"¢ Lean stew beef
"¢ Veal and lamb

When I'm cooking for my large, extended family, red meat is a big favorite. Beef stew, stroganoff, pork chops - these are all dishes I know will be received with a smile and eaten with a hearty appetite. I'm happy to know I can serve these dishes with less concern that I might be serving up something with fewer than four star in the health department.

Back to the kitchen!