Red meat gets mixed reviews in the press, with some claiming it has its place in a high protein low carb diet, and others suggesting a diet high of red meat is a sure fire path to weight gain, due to its relatively high fat and energy content. So if you are embarking on a weight loss regime, does red meat have a place in your diet?
Red meat and weight loss
Several studies have suggested that higher protein, low to moderate carbohydrate diets are effective not only for weight loss, but also in maintenance of this loss in the long term. However, this is not specific to red meat, but all types of protein, and generally also requires an overall energy reduction to achieve weight loss.
A 12 week study in overweight women supported the fact that a diet that had a moderately increased protein intake could result in weight loss and improved lipid profiles, (fats in the blood).
This study also found no difference between poultry and red meat, with improvements seen in women eating both types of protein. This again supports the theory that a controlled amount of lean red meat is effective in weight loss, when a reduced energy diet and exercise program is also followed.
Another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also supported the consumption of lean red meat, suggesting that there could be an improvement in blood fats with a healthy diet that included some meat.
Red meat and weight gain
Red meat is high in saturated, unhealthy fats and energy, and so has often been focussed on as a target food for causing weight gain. Although red meat also provides valuable nutrients and is a good source of protein, it is often consumed in large quantities and can thus be a key factor in weight gain.
A European study carried out as part of the EPIC-PANACEA project, with over 300,000 male and female participants from ten European countries found that total meat consumption was positively associated with weight gain in both men and women.
Diet was assessed with country specific questionnaires, and weight and height were measured at the start of the study and self-reported in follow up.
The study suggested that an increase in meat of 250g per day would lead to an average weight gain of 2kg over 5 years and found that high intakes of red meat, poultry and processed meats all seemed to have a weight gain effect.
The findings of this study suggest that reducing red meat may help with weight loss, however as the study is mainly based on self reported data; there is always the possibility of under or over reporting of dietary intake and weight which may affect results.
Is red meat appropriate on a weight loss diet?
Although there may be some evidence to suggest that a high red meat intake can increase weight gain, a controlled amount of lean meat can be incorporated into a healthy weight loss diet. There is no doubt that a huge steak as big as dinner plates are not going to help you lose weight. However a small, lean cut of red meat a couple of times a week may in fact help with weight loss, due to its high protein content.
It is important to remember that even if a high protein diet is followed, red meat should not be the sole protein source, and a variety, including fish, white meat, eggs and plant proteins should make up a balanced healthy diet.(See also: how to eat more protein without meat)
It is also essential to follow a diet that is energy deficient. In order to lose weight you must consume less calories than you are burning in physical activity, so no matter what types of food you are eating, if this is not the case you will gain weight.
Recommended serve size for red meat
The recommended serve size for red meat is about the size and thickness of a pack of playing cards, which is much smaller than the serves consumed by the average American. It is also recommended that red meat not be eaten more than two times per week, although this is more from a heart protective point of view, rather than weight loss.
Choosing the leanest cut of meat you can afford is also important to reduce the calories and saturated fat content. If there is any visible fat on the meat, trim it before cooking. Finally, choose a low fat cooking method, such as grilling, dry frying or oven roasting with no added fat, or a small amount of a healthy fat such as olive or vegetable oil.
Steer clear of processed meats where possible as these are much higher in fat, and if you must choose minced meat, try to find a low fat variety. It is also important to avoid high calorie and fat condiments or sides that are often found with red meat, such as creamy sauces, French fries or even sugary mustards and tomato ketchups.
References used in this article.