Giving up red meat - pros/cons

I am considering giving up red meat. What are the fors and againsts with this? What physiological benefit is there in not eating red meat? All I know is that I will be getting less iron if I do it which means I’ll need to eat nuts and spinach more… or something. Help me out.

I second would like to know a bit more about this as well. I gave it up for about two years, mainly just because I didn’t like steak, and then later it kind of became principle for me. I gave up a little while ago, but I’d still like to know.

Red meat is a nutritional source just like anything else. It is an especially good source of iron (as mentioned) and zinc (important for the immune system). It is also a fairly handy source of B vitamins like niacin, B6, and B12. Eaten in moderate amounts as part of a balanced diet is perfectly fine and there is no actual health reason to avoid it (unless Mad Cow disease is an issue). That said you could cut it from your diet completely with no ill effects provided you see to it that your body obtains the various nutrients present in red meat from another source.

I once had a link to some research summaries (but lost it in a hard disk crash) regarding vegetarians. To summarise, one’s risk of having heart problems go down some percent (60% IIRC) with giving up meat. Risk of colon cancer is also reduced considerably (40%?). As long as you take your vitamins you probably are not giving up anything that you used to get in the carnivorous part of your diet.

With modern processing, you aren’t missing much in the way of fun, either. We just had a BBQ with bratwurst for all–no one noticed the diff between the meaty brats and the meat-free brats. They’re pretty darned good.

  • I may have the percentages reversed, but you get the idea. Much less in the way of heart problems and colon cancer. I’ll try to find that link again.

I gave up meat 15 years ago – 5 years ago I started eating turkey and chicken again. I don’t think there were any health benefits. I’m seriously overweight, and I have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, along other health issues.

It’s better to exercise and eat a balanced diet.

The only benefit I’m sure of is to the environment. Mass production of cows and pigs has truly horrific effects on the environment, from habitat destruction to concentration of waste products.

I suppose I also don’t need to worry about mad cow disease.

YMMV, but I’ll encourage your choice if only for the environmental benefits.

That wouldn’t happen in the city of my birth, where they hold Bratwurst Days in the summer.

I’m not sure that meat production is necessarily any better or worse for the environment than farming is. Mind you we are talking about mass production and not someone with one cow or a backyard garden. I went to school in Iowa and knew more than a few farmers kids who would tell me that a modern farm is pretty rough on the environment too. Clearling land, diverting water sources, fertilizer, pesticides and so on. And for those vegetarians who do not eat meat because they do not want to kill animals should know that harvest time on a modern farm is pure carnage as all sorts of animals that live in the fields get killed when the harvesters go through.

I suppose it is a topic for GD to decide on whether one can assign a “better or worse” to all of this but vegetarians can fool themselves on this point as the vegetables they eat can come with their own environmental issues that are often glossed over.

This is all true. The problem, though, is that so many animals raised for meat are fed on feeds that have been grown on farms (soy feeds, etc.) so you have to add the environmental damage caused by raising the feed to the environmental damage caused by raising the animals themselves.

Not only that, but eating meat is an environmentally inefficient way of converting protein. You have to feed animals anywhere from 5-15 pounds of protein to get one pound of protein from them in meat form. The ratio depends on the type and breed of animal; some are more efficient converters than others. I can’t remember which is best and which is worst off the top of my head.

As for the OP: although a vegetarian myself, i believe that you can eat red meat as part of a perfectly healthy diet, as long as you balance your diet properly. Don’t give up red meat just because it somehow seems like “the right thing to do.” By all means, give it up if that’s what you want, but usually if people don’t have a specific reason or reasons for giving it up, they come back to it pretty quickly. NoCoolUserName is correct that some studies have shown lower incidences of heart problems and colon cancer for people who don’t eat red meat, but giving up red meat is no guarantee that you’ll avoid these things, especially if you have a family predisposition to heart problems.

True but this neglects the fact that most herbivores can convert proteins from sources unavailable to us and put it into a form we (humans) can use. E.G. Humans cannot eat grass and expect to live off of it. A cow can. Double stomach, chewing its cud and such allow it to get what it needs from that food source. So, a human could live in a field of grass and starve to death while a cow will get on fine. The cow converts the grass into a source a human can eat (meat).

Unless you are iron deficient, you don’t have a reason to worry about giving up red meat. You also probably won’t notice any difference except for lower cholesterol. If you really want to know, just stop eating it and see for yourself. If you are really worried about nutritional deficiencies, contact a Registered Dietician.

Well, if the beef you eat has been feeding on grass, i agree with you. But, as i suggested earlier, an unfortunately large number of beef cattle hardly see a blade of grass in their life, let alone eat every meal from a grass paddock. Feedlot cattle are fed on specially formulated stock feed comprised largely of high protein pulses and cereals in order to get them to put weight on quickly. These feeds are usually made from proteion sources that could just as easily be fed to humans, and it is this that makes the whole “protein gap” issue such a large problem, IMHO. Open range beef cattle still exist, and Eric Schlosser does a good job in Fast Food Nation of explaining some of the differences it can make in terms of meat quality and environmental benefits, but feedlot meat predominates in the modern American beef diet.

By the way, the cow doesn’t just have a “double stomach,” is has four—rumen, reticulum, omasum, and abomasum. There, i knew my four years of agricultural high school would come in handy one day.

This is purely anecdotal, but I have a history of headaches in my family that are only cured with red meat(well beef or buffallo, haven’t really tried others). It’s a special kind of headache, that I and my mother instantly recognize it as “Need a small piece of lean steak” headache.

If the reason you are considering giving up red meat is for your own health, just changing what type of red meat you usually eat would be as good.

If you switched to a natural low fat red meat (kangaroo is freely available here, not sure what equivalents there would be where you are) you would get just as much benefit as dropping all red meat without missing out on the best source of dietary iron.

Getting your iron needs from spinach et al is actually quite hard, as the type found in vegetables is hard to absorb, and even harder in grains as they contain phytic acid that inhibits use of the iron they do contain. Similarly spinach contains oxalic acid which inactivates the iron (cite site for the above).

Cattle and pigs are not inherently bad – it’s the way that they are farmed that is bad. It’s especially bad when you cut down and burn tropical rain forests to provide grazing land, overgraze that land into desolation, then cut down and burn some more rain forest.

The other ‘efficiency’ that I find disturbing is using ground up diseased cattle as high-protein cattle feed. It’s the primary reason for BSE, plus it’s just plain icky.

Do you have evidence that vegetarians frequently develop iron-deficiency? It’s not a matter I even consider and yet when I used to donate blood, it sank like a stone every time. I’ve heard people point out that red meat is a good source of iron, and I know that it’s common knowledge that a vegetarian diet inevitably leads to iron deficiency, but it hasn’t happened to me or anyone I know. And I’ve never heard any actual scientific support for it, either.

The human body and human diet is very complicated; the best scientific understanding of it is incomplete, and the process of boiling scientific fact down into dietary advice in magazines and such is one that inserts bias and distortions into it. It’s much better to rely on empirical evidence to determine whether a problem exists before you try to cure it. Nothing I’ve read suggests that iron deficiency is common in vegetarians (much less semi-vegetarians like the OP here), and I’ve read a great deal about it. I’m inclined to think this idea is the result of the reductive notion that “Red meat has iron. Vegetarians don’t eat red meat. Therefore, vegetarians don’t get enough iron.” Since these matters are so complex, real empirical evidence should be used to support this line of reasoning.

Not speaking for Askance here but it seems that in general vegetarians are no more likely than meat eaters to suffer from iron deficiencies. That said vegetarians do need to pay a bit more attention to their diet as iron is somewhat harder to come by in a vegetarian diet. Note that some of the more extreme types of vegetarians may have an issue with iron deficiencies as cited below.

Free-range cattle will have a poorer quality of meat.

Free-range cattle will have a poorer quality of meat.

It isn’t quite that simple. Free-range cattle produce meat that is lower in fat and so gets a lower grade because the USDA considers fat in meat a good thing. Ask any butcher which piece of meat is higher quality, the one full of marbling (fat) or the one that is lean. He will say the meat full of fat is the higher quality. So you need to know what quality means when it comes to beef. (Fat content, by the way, is just one factor used to determine the grade; I don’t mean to sound like it is the whole story) In general, free range beef will be a bit tougher partly because of less fat and partly because the animal is usually older and has actually used its muscles to walk around. I’ve never really noticed the toughness factor compared to the standard cuts of meat one typically finds in grocery stores. The very best grades of meat almost never make it to supermarkets anyway, so unless you’re used to Kobe beef, then I doubt you would notice any great difference in tenderness between free range beef and feed lot beef. I never have anyway and I eat both as availability and budget allow. I prefer the leaner beef for health reasons, but when I get a craving for a juicy grilled rib-eye steak, I go for a marbled one. As always, YMMV.

Thanks, y’all. I had assumed I would have problems maintaining iron levels but this was no more than an assumption based on the dubious logic “meat contains iron, therefore no meat = not enough iron”.

Askance, I am a fellow Aussie (Melbourne) so no problem getting my hands on some roo, but can’t say I’ve been too keen on it on the few occasions I’ve had it in the past. Its not the taste, just that it tends to be as tough as old boots.

Free range beef will also taste more “beefy” precisely because those muscles are being used. A filet mignon, the most well marbled part of the cow, is almost tasteless. The brisket, one of the most well used, has an intense beefy flavour.