Harvard Men's Health Watch

Ask the doctor: How much meat can you eat

How much meat you can eat

Q Everything I read in Harvard Men's Health Watch about nutrition says to minimize the amount of red meat in my diet. Would it be best if I just gave it up completely? Or is there a safe amount to eat?

A Numerous studies have observed that consuming red meat is associated with diseases such as heart disease or colon cancer. In fact, the World Health Organization recently classified processed and red meats as cancer-causing substances. In most studies, it does appear that the lower your consumption of red meat, the better your health.

As for how much meat consumption is "safe," many studies show a small rise in the risk of disease at levels of 50 to 100 grams (1.8 to 3.5 ounces) of red meat consumed daily. Processed meats (salted, smoked, or cured) are also associated with a higher risk. In contrast, there does not appear to be a measurable risk from eating red meat once or twice a week.

It's important to understand that although these studies clearly link meat and poorer health, they do not prove a cause-and-effect relationship. On the other hand, the findings of many studies are consistent, strongly indicating that red meat consumption does contribute to chronic diseases.

Despite the uncertainties, it's reasonable to moderate your meat intake and observe a few meat-free days per week. Although red meat may have nutritional value in the protein and iron content, alternative foods such as fish, poultry, beans, or legumes can provide similar benefits.

- William Kormos, MD
Editor in Chief, Harvard Men's Health Watch

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