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Retreat on Red Meat for Health?

Blackened steak should be on the chopping block.

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Sliced red meat

As with coffee and eggs, the role of red meat in our health has been much debated. Now there’s one more piece of evidence to support those on the “be cautious” side, specifically when that meat is charred.

Published in Nutrients, a study by researchers at the University of South Australia tested the impacts of two diets, with one high in red meat and processed grains and the other consisting of whole grains, dairy, nuts, legumes and white meats, such as chicken and fish. The group eating the first diet cooked their meats at high temperatures—by grilling, roasting and frying—while the second cooked the white meat and seafood more gently by steaming, boiling, stewing and poaching. All 51 participants switched to the other diet plan after one month.

Red meat, particularly when cooked at high heat, increased participants’ levels of compounds called advanced glycation end products (AGEs), compared with when they ate other meats using lower-heat cooking methods.

As AGEs accumulate in the body, they appear to disrupt cell functioning, which may contribute to certain conditions like heart disease. To lower AGE exposure, it might be wise to moderate red-meat consumption. And when you do want to enjoy a steak or burger, prepare it using no-char, slower cooking methods at lower temperatures.

The caveat is that we can’t say with certainty that the levels of AGEs seen with this amount of red meat intake would contribute to poor health. Also, it might be the cooking method that is a bigger culprit than the type of meat. Any food, including chicken, cooked at high temperatures in a dry environment can spike AGE production. It’s just thought that red meat might be more susceptible to AGE production when you fire up the grill.

See also: Red Meat and Heart Health


Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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