The most common meat consumed in America is beef. Consider the country’s idea of a “balanced” meal: yesterday’s main dish likely included some sort of red meat like hamburger or steak.
In 2007, Americans consumed an estimated 28.1 billion pounds of beef, according to a USDA Economic Research Service study.
Most people believe eating meat is the easiest way to get protein, but relying on red meat as a main source of protein can harm health, wallet and the environment. Vegetarian options like beans, nuts and quinoa (a grain that contains all nine amino acids, a complete protein) are much healthier and less expensive.
The average American eats twice his or her weight in meat each year, according to licensed physician and surgeon Dr. Joseph Mercola. Red meat can cause potential health risks, especially in such massive quantities.
A study from Professor of Nutrition at Harvard’s School of Public Health details the risks of eating red meat. Just one serving of red meat each day increases risk for heart disease and cancer by 13 percent.
These staggering statistics alone should be enough to stifle daily cravings for red meat. Several studies support the idea. Dr. Barry Popkin, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina, recommends red meat eaters should only have a hamburger or a steak once or twice a week and a hot dog or other processed meats only once a month. Processed meats like bacon, hot dogs, sausage and cold cuts increase the risk for health problems by 20 percent. Harvard’s School of Public Health blames the salt and preservatives added to these products.
Another theory about the increased risk comes from Marji McCollough of the American Cancer Society. “The iron in meat acts as a catalyst to turn nitrites added as preservatives into a particular kind of carcinogen in the body,” she said.
McCollough also warns about the risks of using a barbeque pit to cook meat. “You’re not only getting the nitrites, but you’re also getting possible formation of carcinogens by cooking at high-heat temperatures or in direct contact with a flame.”
The Heart and Stroke Association of Canada recommends trimming excess fat before cooking and to use low-fat cooking methods such as grilling, roasting, broiling or stir-frying.
Besides being high in saturated fat, beef has several unhealthy components. In the United States, calves raised for beef are injected with hormones such as progesterone and testosterone to ‘promote efficient growth’. Medical experts believe consuming hormones through treated cattle can cause decreased sperm count, premature puberty and even cancer. Beef cattle are also treated with about nine million pounds of antibiotic feed additives each year. This contributes to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance in humans. To kill bacteria, some commercial beef is irradiated, meaning it is attacked by gamma rays from radioactive material. Choosing chicken or other poultry over red meat decreases your risk of premature death by 14 percent.
Not only is red meat unhealthy,, but it harms the environment. According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, livestock production generates nearly one fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases—more than transportation. Animal waste from factory farms pollutes streams, rivers and groundwater. In Iowa alone, factory farms produce more than 50 million tons of manure annually.
In the United States, fifty percent of the grain produced is fed to cows, chickens and pigs for human consumption. Meanwhile, some 800 million people around the world suffer from starvation and malnutrition. Instead of feeding so much grain to livestock, cutting back on meat consumption and could allow grains to be distributed to impoverished countries.
One of the most crucial factors for college students should be the retail price of beef. Unfortunately, the price is on the rise due to the increased price of corn and hay, which are key components of animal feed. Because of this, many farmers have decided to exit the beef business entirely. In turn, this reduces the supply of commercial beef. Other farmers have left the business because of severe drought in the Southwest. The best way to avoid the climbing prices of red meat is to reduce the amount consumed. Red meat does not have to be eliminated entirely. Simply choose very lean cuts of red meat and avoid anything labeled ‘prime,’ as it contains more saturated fat. At restaurants, opt for chicken, turkey or fish. Be mindful that a serving size of any meat should be no larger than four or five ounces, about the size of an iPhone.
The next time you pass the meat section at the grocery store, consider the risks. Is one expensive steak really worth hurting your health and the environment?