Is Beef Really Bad for You? The Truth About Red Meat

  | 5 min read

There’s a lot of confusion about red meat

It’s not a secret that Tanzanians love their red meat, especially beef. And while beef isn’t cheap, about 10,000 TZS per kilo in Dar es Salaam, many Tanzanians proudly proclaim that they’d rather die than live without eating nyama.

However, in recent years, it’s common to see articles like ’10 reasons red meat is bad for you’  and ‘ Want to live till 100? Stop eating beef!’ as you scroll down your Facebook page. This has led some people to cut down and even stop eating red meat in hopes of becoming healthier.

However, if red meat is really bad for you then how do communities like the Maasai eat a lot of beef and remain healthy? Is the current anti-red-meat movement a concoction by the medical community? Or will giving up steak truly help you avoid a heart attack and cancer?

Well, the answer may surprise you. Red meat is either good or bad for you depending on the following factors;

1. How was the animal raised?

Here’s the thing, a lot of the studies that claim red meat is unhealthy, are conducted in countries like the U.S. and Canada where most of the red meat consumed comes from animals that are raised in factory farms and fed wheat, sometimes meat, growth hormones, and antibiotics. As a result, traces of these chemicals can be found in the meat that people consume.

However, while there are small-scale factory-farms in Tanzania, the majority of your red meat (specifically beef) comes from cows who are raised the traditional way, by grazing freely on grass and farmland, without chemicals. Simply put, the red meat most Tanzanians eat would be considered ‘organic’, healthy meat in the U.S.

2. Is the meat processed or fresh?

Processed red meat is when the butchered animal is treated with preservatives and other chemicals so that it can last longer. This includes a lot of meat products that you buy from the supermarket like sausages, bacon, and sandwich meat. Most meat eaters in countries like the U.S. consume processed meat.

Whereas, in Tanzania, most people buy fresh meat that hasn’t been treated with chemicals from butcheries. As a result, they are not exposed to the chemicals in processed meat.

So, if you do eat a lot of processed meats like bacon and sausages, then you should definitely consider reducing your intake.

3. Does red meat cause lifestyle diseases?

So, does eating red meat lead to cardiovascular diseases (heart attack), diabetes, colorectal cancer, and cholesterol? Well, the scientific studies that find a connection between red meat and these diseases are based on processed meat. Whereas there is no correlation between organic ‘fresh’ meat and health issues.

However, even though organic meat won’t give you a heart attack, meat cooked in high temperatures can form harmful compounds that are difficult for humans to digest.

So you need to be mindful of how you cook your meat. The best ways to cook red meat are:

  • Steaming

  • Stewing

The potentially harmful ways of cooking red meat are:

  • Grilling or barbequing

  • Frying

Though nyama choma is delicious!

4. How do we define healthy?

A lot of people don’t know this but there is a difference between bad and good calories. You see, bad calories come from processed foods with high levels of sugar and saturated fats, like white bread, chapati, and sausage. They tend to have little nutritional value and affect your hormones and metabolism. Whereas good calories come from fresh foods like vegetables, organic meats, and whole grain wheat, which the body can easily break down into the nutrients it needs.

So, while a 100-gramme piece of organic beef has about 176 calories, it’s still healthy because it has a lot of good nutrients that your body needs. These include:

  • 20 grammes of protein

  • 10 grammes of fat

  • Vitamins like  B3 and B12

  • Minerals like Iron, Zinc, and Selenium

However, moderation is key and you should limit your beef intake to about  230 grammes per week.

The verdict?

Some red meat is good for you.

The main takeaway is that a lot of the studies that conclude that red meat is bad for people are based on processed meat, and make a lot of assumptions.

For instance, people who tend to eat a lot of processed meat, also tend to be unhealthy in other aspects of their lives – excessive drinking, smoking, poor eating habits, etc. As a result of these behaviours, they are at a greater risk of getting certain diseases like cancer. Yet the studies that show a connection between people who eat processed red meat and health issues often don’t emphasise these variables to the general population.

Moreover, as mentioned before, there are no studies that show that organic red meat (that’s cooked well) creates health risks for people. So at the end of the day,  eating a moderate amount of organic red meat that you get from the butcher is not bad for your health, quite contrary, it’s a good source of nutrients!

Iman Lipumba
A digital storyteller, experienced in creating content that improves website visibility on search engines, enhances the user experience, and nurtures brand loyalty. With a background in the social sciences, an expert in researching complex ideas, and communicating them in engaging language to multiple audiences.