Is eating red meat really that bad for you?

50 billion – that’s how many burgers Americans consume every year. That’s 2.4 burgers a day per person!

Yeah, we love our red meat.

Whether it’s a juicy steak, thick pork chop, or a fresh-off-the-grill burger, we consume roughly 140 pounds of it each year, on average. Although you could argue about whether or not those fast-food burgers are actually meat, but we digress.

The point is that while red meat consumption has declined in the U.S. since its peak in the 1970s, it’s still a big part of our eating habits.

Unfortunately, recognizing that also means chewing on an unhealthy dose of negative side effects.

Processed and Unprocessed Red Meats

The beef with red meat doesn’t just name burgers as an unhealthy choice — steak, pork, sausages, all of it – can cause varying health issues.

But not all red meat is made the same.

It’s mostly processed red meat that causes problems and lots of them. We’re talking about your hot dogs, ham, sausages, and beef jerky, the ones that are preserved by smoking or salting, curing, or adding chemical preservatives.

Of course, ditching those saltier meats doesn’t mean you are free of health risks.

Heart Disease

Both processed and unprocessed red meat contains a high content of saturated fats, which raise your cholesterol level. We’ve gone over this before — while your body needs healthy fats for energy, saturated fats tend to do more harm than good.

Too much saturated fat causes cholesterol to build up in your blood vessels, and the risk of a heart attack or stroke grows.

Data also points to choline and carnitine contents in red meat. Your gut breaks down these nutrients into TMAO (trimethylamine-N-oxide), which increases the concentration of the compound in your blood. As if too many saturated fats weren’t bad enough, too much TMAO in your bloodstream can cause strokes and heart attacks and increase the risk of hardened arteries.

Cancer

Cancer is perhaps the scariest word in the English language. It tends to conjure images of hospitals, medical debt, and death.

We mention the word here because, unfortunately, it is true that eating both processed and unprocessed red meats can increase the risk of cancer.

A study even classified processed red meats as class 1 carcinogens. Basically, hot dogs and beef jerky are just as bad as smoking cigarettes.

Unprocessed meats still have the potential to cause cancer. Currently, they’re classified as “probable causes” of cancer. Don’t let that scare you too much, though. The actual increase in risk is 1%. Like everything else, if you eat red meat in moderation, your risk of developing cancer is unlikely.

Health Benefits

Cancer, heart disease, clogged arteries – sounds awful, right? Well, it’s not all doom and gloom. Despite the health scares it can cause, red meat is actually pretty nutritious.

Aside from being a source of protein, red meats are full of vitamins and minerals needed to keep your body healthy.

B12 is often found in red meats, which helps keep your red blood cells healthy. Zinc is also found in red meats, which keeps your immune system working properly.

Still, “less is more” is probably the way to go when it comes to red meats. While you’re probably not in any imminent danger of developing a serious health problem the second you smell bacon in the morning, too much red meat (more than one or two servings a week) could end up doing more harm than good.