A streamlined stack of supplements designed to meet your most critical needs - Adapt Naturals is now live. Learn more

Red Meat: It Does a Body Good!


Last updated on

why red meat is good for you, benefits of red meat
There are many benefits of red meat. stock.com/iofoto

This article is part of a special report on Red Meat. To see the other articles in this series, click here.

Over the past two decades, red meat has been increasingly blamed for everything from heart disease to cancer. Newspapers and magazines love to plaster alarmist headlines about red meat across their front pages, but as you might suspect if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, these claims are ill founded and misleading. In fact, an impartial review of the evidence indicates that red meat is one of the healthiest foods you can eat. But before we get into the health benefits of red meat, I want to take a moment to address the growing number of studies that tarnished its reputation in the first place.

Beef. It’s what’s for (a healthy) dinner. Tweet This

I’ve talked in the past about the limitations of observational studies in general, and not much has changed: they still cannot prove causation, and confounding variables still plague even the most skilled statisticians. One of the biggest specific problems with observational studies on red meat is what’s referred to as the “healthy user bias”. Since red meat has been vilified for years in the mainstream press, people who eat less of it are also more likely to less of other foods that are actually unhealthy (i.e. refined sugar, trans-fats, processed foods, etc.) and engage in healthier lifestyle choices (i.e. they are physically active, don’t smoke, etc.). Moreover, Food Frequency Questionnaires are still a problematic way to gather data about dietary intake. (Do you remember what you ate for lunch last Tuesday? Neither do I.) Based on these factors, it’s clear that individual epidemiological studies on red meat can’t prove much of anything, and looking at the body of evidence as a whole doesn’t do much to strengthen this argument.

For example, reviews of studies on red meat and cancer have reported inconclusive results. (1) Most studies show that the data on red meat and colorectal cancer, which has gotten more publicity than most other conditions red meat is supposed to cause, is insufficient to support a clear positive association between red meat consumption and colorectal cancer. (2) If you want a more detailed look at a couple of these individual studies, you can read my assessments here and here.

And despite claims by the popular media and mainstream medical establishment to the contrary, there’s no consistent evidence demonstrating that the saturated fat found in red meat significantly raises blood cholesterol levels. What’s more, large prospective studies involving almost 350,000 participants have found no association between saturated fat intake and coronary heart disease (CHD) or cardiovascular disease (CVD) (3).  In fact, one large study almost 60,000 Japanese women found an inverse association between saturated fat consumption and stroke: the more saturated fat participants ate, the lower their rate of stroke. (4) As most of you probably know, there’s much more to the cholesterol story than just “LDL = bad,” so rest assured that including red meat in your diet isn’t taking you one step closer to an early grave.

I think it’s safe to say that red meat has been unfairly blamed for the ills of Western society. But in case you still have doubts about ordering the steak, here are some more reasons red meat is actually an extremely healthy and nutrient-dense choice:

B Vitamins

Red meat is a rich source of vitamin B12, which is vital to proper functioning of nearly every system in your body. B12 deficiency can play a role in everything from aging, neurological disorders, and mental illness, to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and infertility. Red meat also contains significant levels of other B vitamins, including thiamin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, folate, niacin, and vitamin B6. It’s crucial to get these vitamins from whole foods sources, rather than relying on government fortification of processed foods, and red meat is one of the easiest ways to ensure adequate intake.

Vitamin D

For people who don’t eat a lot of oily fish or receive a lot of direct sun exposure, red meat can contribute significantly to their overall vitamin D intake. (5) Red meat also contains a vitamin D metabolite called 25-hydroxycholecalciferol, which is assimilated much more quickly and easily than other dietary forms of vitamin D. In populations with low sun exposure, meat has been shown to be protective against rickets, a degenerative bone disease caused by severe vitamin D deficiency. (6) Interestingly, consumption of milk with the same levels of vitamin D does not provide this same protection, indicating that the vitamin D in meat is uniquely absorbable and useful to the human body.

Like what you’re reading? Get my free newsletter, recipes, eBooks, product recommendations, and more!


Red meat contains primarily heme iron, a form that is absorbed and utilized much more efficiently than the non-heme iron found in plant foods. (7) Furthermore, even small amounts of meat can aid in the absorption of non-heme iron. For people with iron overload conditions like hereditary hemochromatosis, it’s probably best to limit high-iron foods such as red meat, but for most of the population – especially those with iron-deficiency anemia – the iron from red meat is beneficial. This is particularly important for women who are pregnant or looking to become pregnant, as iron is crucial for the growth and development of the fetal brain.

Other Minerals

Red meat is an especially important source of zinc, because the other rich sources — organ meats and shellfish — are much less commonly consumed in our country. As with vitamin D and iron, the zinc present in red meat is highly bioavailable, and even a small amount of red meat in the diet can increase zinc utilization from all sources. (8) Zinc is an essential mineral that is an imperative part of many physiological functions, including structure in certain proteins and enzymes, and regulation of gene expression, and those eating meat-free diets are at greater risk of zinc deficiency. (9) Finally, to round out this impressive nutrient profile, red meat contains significant levels of other vital minerals such as magnesium, copper, cobalt, phosphorus, chromium, nickel, and selenium.

Why Red Meat Trumps White Meat

Some of the benefits I’ve mentioned thus far are not unique to red meat, but apply to animal flesh in general. For example, levels of B vitamins, vitamin D, and most of the trace minerals are just as high in white meat as in red. (10) However, red meat does have significantly more b12, iron, and zinc than white meat, and those things alone are enough to set it apart. Where red meat really shines, though, is in its fatty acid profile.

The fat of ruminants comprises approximately equal parts of saturated and monounsaturated fat, with only a small amount of polyunsaturated fat. (11) The unique ruminant digestive system ensures that these proportions stay relatively constant, regardless of what the animal eats. This makes red meat a better choice than pork or poultry for those that cannot afford pasture-raised meat, because you will still be getting mostly saturated and monounsaturated fats.

I hope this post has clarified some of the reasons that red meat is such a lauded food in the ancestral community. It’s full of highly absorbable nutrients, and it’s a better choice than pork or poultry if you can’t afford pastured meat. If you were scared of red meat before, maybe some of your fears have been allayed, and if you weren’t, you can feel even better about digging into your grass-fed burger (without the bun!) tonight. If you’re looking for great quality meat I would recommend ButcherBox.

ADAPT Naturals logo

Better supplementation. Fewer supplements.

Close the nutrient gap to feel and perform your best. 

A daily stack of supplements designed to meet your most critical needs.

Chris Kresser in kitchen


Join the conversation

  1. Hi Alyssa,

    Thanks for taking the time to reply! I forgot to mention I’m on an eczema elimination diet at the moment, so I can’t eat dairy products at all. (The only thing I can eat at the moment from what you mentioned is the duck fat, which I did add to my meal yesterday.)
    I used to eat most of those things you mentioned.
    I am allergic to pork – any mammals.

    So you definitely think that with those sources of fats it’s enough? Do you know that others in the paleo community think the same? Cause they seem to be so much into the organ meats…
    and is there any controversy over the butter? Why should that be ok but not other dairy?


    • Keep in mind that you shouldn’t be trying to conform your own needs to fit a pre-set diet; you should be conforming your diet to fit your own needs. I don’t think your goal should be to try and figure out if there are enough sources of good fats for you to try ‘Paleo’; I think the goal should be to recognize your food constraints, realize that it isn’t an ideal situation, and then just do the best you can to replace any ‘bad fats’ that might be lingering in your diet with healthier ones that still work for you.

      Whether others in the Paleo community would consider those sources of fat are ‘enough’ for you is somewhat irrelevant, because you can’t just change the foods your body tolerates (at least not immediately!). But yes, I do think that between fats from poultry and seafood, and fats from plants such as coconut oil and palm oil, you do not need to consume any modern industrial vegetable oils or other ‘bad fats’ to meet your fat needs.

      Organ meats are definitely good! Are you not able to consume organ meats from poultry? And there’s definitely controversy over butter, but again, it’s about figuring out whether YOU can tolerate butter; not whether butter is “paleo.” Usually, people who consider themselves Paleo will still eat butter and ghee even if they don’t eat other dairy because they’re both almost all fat, and the problematic portion of dairy is almost always the protein or lactose. Ghee is often tolerated even by those who have dairy allergies, because all of the protein and lactose is removed.

      If you search the archives, Chris has written a lot about dairy in the past!

    • I eliminated all sugar and grains from my diet and the eye lid eczema that plagued me for many months went away in days. I eat 100g of carbs a day from only fruits and veggies. I eat a lot of heavy cream and butter, and occasionally whole milk. Dairy isn’t the issue, the quality of dairy is the issue. Sugar, flour, refined carbohydrates and grains are the issue. I also got pregnant after over a year of trying after I changed my diet to low carb high fat. Proof is in the pudding folks…and I love me some red meat!

  2. (Sorry if this has been covered elsewhere, there’s just so much paleo info to go through I’m getting a bit overwhelmed. It’s all interesting!)

    Wondering if anyone knowledgable about a paleo diet can help me out here. I’m considering trying a paleo diet, but do you think it’s possible to get enough good fats when you have an allergy to red meat? I became allergic through a tick allergy 3 years ago, & get hives all over (have only have one instance, haven’t had it since as the immunologist said to stay off it, the reactions may get progressively worse – the allergy was confirmed by a blood test).

    I have had years of excessive gas, plus bad bloating in the last year, & my diet was very high in refined carbs & sugar when I was younger. I had an endoscopy a few months ago which showed inactive gastritis, no H pylori or anything else. I presume weaning myself off sugar, changing to coconut & flaxseed oils & avoiding vege oils as much as possible since May 2012 (though I’ve still been eating wholegrains) has helped a bit, & I’ve significantly upped my organic wholefoods intake, although most of it is vegan.

    Haven’t read the book on GAPS yet but I will as it sounds promising & maybe after my gut is healed my allergy would go away…but if it doesn’t, how can I get enough fat if I can’t eat any mammalian meat? Is duck fat, bird meats & fish (although that will be hard as I have always hated fish & seafood in general, but willing to try working it into my diet) enough??

    • Hi Jodie!

      First of all, whether you try Paleo or not, getting your fats in order is one of the best things you can do for your health! And it’s definitely possible to get enough good fats without including red meat. You mentioned coconut oil and flaxseed oil- coconut oil is great, and while flaxseed oil is probably not the best choice (because it’s extremely delicate and prone to oxidation, and doesn’t give you the long-chain omega-3 fats DHA and EPA) I’d say it’s definitely better than industrial vegetable oils, as long as it’s high quality and not rancid. What other fats are you currently eating?

      Red palm oil, avocado oil, olive oil (be sure it’s high-quality), and macadamia nut oil are other plant-based sources of good fat, and of course you can get good fats by just eating avocado, olives, and nuts as well. If you aren’t allergic to pork, pastured lard is a great option, and duck fat (as you mentioned) is good. If you can eat eggs, egg yolks are a good source of fat, plus many important nutrients.

      Dairy fat is another great option, if you can tolerate it. Ghee is one of my favorite fats to cook with, and of course, butter is delicious on everything 🙂

      Basically, you have a ton of options! And like I said earlier, whatever you can do to eliminate industrial vegetable oils and balance your omega-3/omega-6 intake is a good move, whether you end up trying Paleo or not.

      • I agree with every that Alyssa said, I especially love fair trade Red Palm Oil and it’s amazing vitamin E qualities that you can’t get anywhere else. I spread it on my pastured meats that I cook as well as adding to shakes.

  3. Why are people taking nutritional advice on red meat from a licensed acupuncturist?!

    According to nutritional researcher and professor emeritus T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D. (http://nutritionstudies.org/board/dr-t-colin-campbell/); medical doctors Neal Barnard (http://www.pcrm.org/media/experts/bios/neal-barnard-md), Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr. (http://www.heartattackproof.com/about.htm); registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist Jeff Novick (http://jeffnovick.com/RD/About.html) and many other doctors, researchers, and nutritionists; beef is harmful due to animal protein, saturated fats, and cholesterol. Beef promotes various cancers; arteriosclerosis; heart attacks and stroke; diabetes; and other maladies.

    In America, anyone can have an opinion, but we should still be governed by facts. Learn the facts about how a plant-based diet (vegetables; legumes; whole grains; fruits) without added oils reduces or eliminates the above-mentioned health problems and leads to a healthful weight. See, e.g., the books My Beef With Meat and The China Study.

    • West: in any free country anyone can have an opinion, we hope is governed by the facts, and not selected partial truths as you cite. As legumes, grains, sugars have become increasingly introduced by industry to the consumer, brainwashed by vested interests, inflammatory disease has increased 10 fold or 1000% as causes of death over the last 100+ years. During this period we have gone from eating mainly ruminant grass fed meat mostly in the form of beef, to mainly grain fed meats, mostly in the form of chickens, together with arable cropped grains and legumes. Don’t believe me, simply check causes of death in the late industrial era pre 1901 compared to today. You will find that age adjusted deaths today from heart disease and cancers alone are over 60% compared to less than 6% when most ate butter, unpasteurized milk and beef was the preferred center of the plate meat. These are not selected facts but looking at the whole. Hope you continue healthy and keep an open mind. Remember the old adage, ‘ there are non so blind as those who will not see’.

      • Beefeater et al.

        I’m no scientist and I don’t know whose pinion I should believe. However, if we go back to pre-1901 we have to take into account many other factors than the food we eat, such as pollution. Yes, for instance, there was smoke from fires and the filth that produced, but they didn’t have to cope with
        particulates from motorcar exhaust pipes. It is extremely difficult to aportion death rates to particular causes, including diet: we need to be very careful about what we read into statistics.

    • Finally… somebody I agree with. I too follow Dr.’s T. Colin Campbell, Barnard, Esselstyn, Novak, and Dr. John McDougall.
      I believe in the not too distant future studies and research will confirm that these doctors are on the right path. The beef and dairy industry is worth billions and this knowledge is not profitable to them, not to mention the pharmaceutical industry. The western world is sick and obese, and cancer ridden, and so many people cannot accept that what they’ve been eating all their lives is killing them.

    • The facts surrounding diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, hypertension and other modern day “metabolic” disorders is not dietary cholesterol, saturated fats and meat, but processed carbohydrates. Recent research has validated this point over and over again. It is not the fact that we eat meat, but the fact that we eat highly processed refined carbohydrates. There are problems from excess meat consumption, but they are not those you are speaking of. Diverticulitis and Diverticulosis are two which come to mind. They are due to diets low in fiber, high in refined and processed carbohydrates, sugars and quite possibly due to excessively high consumption of protein, Modest consumption of meat in our diets may indeed be necessary for our well being.

      • Then please explain why obesity, heart disease, and diabetes are much more prevalent among meat eaters than among vegans and vegetarians.

        • Simple answer for a simple question: It’s what most meat eaters eat along with their meat. Meat in the US is typically grouped with junk food itself and/or high sugar and refined carbohydrate foods. The pairings themselves have much to do with the negative stigmatism associated with red meats

          Let me give you an example: Say you get a big mac combo with large fries and a coke. Do you think it’ s the meat in that equation that’s causing harm??

          “Meat eaters” itself is such a very broad and general term and doesn’t take into account other dietary habits, food preparation, exercise and overall health of a certain individual. That person ordering the big mac combo with a coke and fries? Yeah that’s a meat eater

  4. Red meat is not “rich in vitamin b12′. Not any more anyway. Modern farming methods have eliminated most of the bacteria from the soil that produce b12. This means you are probably b12 deficient even if you eat red meat.

  5. I’m in pre-season training for a body building show next May. I intend to gain 7kg by Jan 2014, before I diet down over 16wks. I’m eating approx 200grms of steak 3 times a wk along with chicken everyday to achieve my 300gms of daily protein. The consumption amount of red meat is primarily to gain the weight. I intend getting a full set of blood tests done now, then again in Jan 2014. If it’s any use to you I can send you both reports

  6. Dr Gabe Mirkin oftentimes suggests decreasing red meat consumption in his newsletter, he wrote saturated fats in red meat blocks insulin receptors and he also wrote monounsaturated fats in fruits, whole grains and vegetables have been shown to unblock insulin receptors. He doesn’t give references and doesn’t answer questions(at least mine).
    I wonder what you can say about red meat blocking insulin receptors…
    Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge

  7. Healthiest I’ve ever been in my life is since going vegan 8 years ago… Worst I ever felt was eating red meat! Sorry but i just don’t see how red meat can EVER be healthy…Plant foods contain enough iron and protein … Look up Dr McDougal and Dr Neal Bernard for some truths about healing on a plant-based diet.. We are herbivores!

    • Look at you teeth. They are not the teeth of herbivores! A vegan diet may prove helpful as a very short term, detoxifying solution for some people, it can never and will never prove to be a valid way to long-term health else there would be at least one traditional culture that practiced it successfully with multiple generations of fertility, healthy children, and degenerative and chronic disease free people demonstrating it’s positive effect.

      Such a culture did not and does not exist.

      • You do have herbivore teeth actually.
        – Herbivore’s teeth are flat edged i.e. like human teeth. Carnivores are long, sharp and pointed, suited to ripping meat from the bone.
        – Carnivores do not have molars, herbivores do.
        – Herbivores jaws move sideways to allow chewing, carnivores do not. Carnivores do not chew meat, they swallow it. Their digestive tracts are also much shorter so that the meat passes through quickly before it starts rotting in their guts.

        • Our teeth are specialized for a variety of tasks, but we are not obligate carnivores nor are we pure herbivores, the argument is not a valid one and needs to be discarded. Our digestive system is capable of handling both animal and plant products. If you have studied anatomy and physiology, you will see the facts in front of you. We digest and absorb most of our food in our intestines, which is quite capable of handling animal products, in moderation!

  8. This is a good argument to WHY red meat is good for you. And I argue this point a lot. But, I keep getting the run around of “well you can get those nutrients from vegetables.” And I agree, you can. Do you have any information on nutrients in veggies compared to red meat??

  9. Hey Chris.

    In addition to Imppress’ post on Neu5Gc, which is a fact that it starts inflammation in many (not all) people, I forgot to include that Greg’s post on March 2 is a great reminder that, “too much muscle meat is problematic, leading to thyroid suppression, inflammation and stress. Muscle meat is high in the inflammatory amino acids tryptophan, cysteine and methionine.”

    But then again, one wonders how much is too much. . . .

    But, of course, this doesn’t affect all of us.

    Some are just “born lucky”

    Bastards! 🙂

  10. I read the same article a few weeks back, Impress, and then did some research on my own.

    And, Cathryn, it’s not “theory.” It’s a fact.

    And there are other things that cause an autoimmune disease (stress, lack of sleep, diet, mood swings. . . .), so you saying that you and other experience an onset even though you don’t eat beef and you are a vegetarian really doesn’t mean anything.

    And there are a whole slew of vegetarians who think they eat healthy, but they don’t. They just think they do, and that they are, because they are a–vegetarian.

    Now, is Neu5GC really harmful? Who really knows. Maybe we can take it in small doses–who knows. . . .
    Is Chris assumptions about meat correct?

    Who knows.

    But if I was a betting man, I bet that it does more harm than good.

    (And who are these tribes that eat that much meat a day and there is a record of fewer or no diseases among them??? Whomever say that, how do THEY know? Did they go there to observe???)

    I can only hope Chris is right, though.

    But for every health article that comes from a legitimate source stating that something is good for us, there is another stating that it isn’t.

    It’s like: What the hell!

    Remember when they said eggs and butter was not good for us?

    All I know is that I like meat, and I will continue to eat it.

    I’m not a health nut, nor do I really watch my diet all that much (I love McDonalds!)–I just have to make sure not to eat that much beef, while eating plenty of greens, watch my stress level, drink plenty of water, exercise, and get enough sleep to compensate the bad–or not bad–foods I eat.

    • Perry – I too by nature, am a doubting Thomas, who, by living in nature, instinctively scan the horizon, look for the crows and signs that tell me what is happening, allowing the gifts of memory, imagination, experience and thought to determine the truth and the truths of the experience of others.
      Cathryn put it very succinctly in her reply to Impress, who did not and specifically quotes the good Doctor’s THEORY. (Dr. Varki proposes [a] theory.re NruG5 etc.)
      I have spent many frustrating years collating the evidence supporting the position of Chris and his conclusions are more right than many but I am just a beef farmer and could not know.
      I suggest if you want the truth, exit the artificial world, giving yourself the opportunity to be bitten, or kicked and live with nature through a full season and many truths will be revealed

  11. I find this subject very interesting. I was born and raised in Argentina where red meat is a staple. Lunch and dinner always included red meat, usually barbecued over coal. I never met anyone with cancer while I lived there and have asked all my family members whether they even knew of anyone – the answer was no. The beef in Argentina, however, was fully grass-fed and we picked out all our cuts at the butchers where the entire cow hung in the cooler in full-view so that we may pick which part we wanted. Chickens were butchered after we chose the one we wanted for our meal. Granted this was during the 60’s and 70’s and from what I’ve read, things may be starting to change but, nevertheless, it makes a compelling argument, in my view. In my opinion, this society vilifies entire food groups without looking at the way they are raised, handled and amended. Hopefully, we can cure ourselves of this terrible habit.

  12. In context, the term “red meat” seems synonymous with beef. This year I’ve been eating elk and pronghorn, having enjoyed successful hunting seasons. Is there research suggesting such wild game consumption compares favorably to grass fed beef, or is the difference negligible?

    • Paul,
      Wild big game if seasonally fat compares favorably with at least to our fat grass finished beef, generally over 200mg per 100g. (see Dr Mark Hyman’s presentation on Paleo diets and MS). and home page of lindenleas.ca. According to Dr.Hyman’s presentation grain fed beef averages 46mg. and grass fed is only 61mg. This all relates to the omega 3 level but I have data indicating levels about 80mg. for both grass and grain fed with the grass fed omega 6:3 ratio in balance, but with the grain fed being 5 times higher in omega 6 on ground beef sampled at that time. I suspect that the data Dr Hyman has compiled relates to average grass fed.
      I suspect this is because many grass fed are not fattened to grade standards and are not grass fat. All the good stuff is in the fat profile of the properly fattened animal. It is buyer beware and know your farmer because no amount of certification schemes regarding feeding process can correct. The proof is in the final product and misrepresentation is a problem until a simple litmus type test is developed, correlated to the Omega 3 level/ratio.

      • Can you send the link to Mark Hyman’s presentation that you mentioned, I searched on Youtube and found a part 2/7 video, but could not tell who was speaking…

        • I am on road with no access to computer but you should be able to open link to Mark Hyman presentation if you go to our website home page : lindenleas.ca and the link is just above a chart re omega3’s in difference ruminants. I found the whole video interesting. Hope this helps.

  13. The way i see it is there are two main components to eating healthy and it’s all about getting as much nutrients as you can. Having monitored my micronutrient intake it has become apparent to me that green vegetables provide one side of your total nutrients needed, and meat the other. The rest is just a filler really apart from maybe nuts. I have also noticed that red meat definitely gives you more bang for your buck than white meats and I gravitate towards that. But lets not forget oily fish are also great!

  14. good article chris i like reading your information and debunking myths!, dr mercola is another who writes good informative articles.ive been doing a diet based around protein, low carb, low sugar, fruits, nuts and limited dairy for 4 months and have lost 13kg. i have red meat once or twice a week and love it, i always feel content after it and usually east it with some vegetables, my cholesterol is fine and never felt better.
    i dont understand why “some” doctors or so called health experts bash red meat and animal fats yet will in some instances have the hide to promote polyunsaturated oils, hydrogenated oils, whats their agenda, to keep us ill?

  15. Chris, sorry had to ask this again. I’d really appreciate your response. I got a few questions for you in a aptitude test kinda format 😛

    When eating out and given the choices as follows which one would you choose?
    As in which meat is better (or lesser evil) in each pair.

    1. farmed salmon vs organic chicken
    2. farmed salmon vs grain fed beef
    3. grain fed beef vs organic chicken


  16. Hi Chris,
    What about the iron in red meat if you already have cancer? Doctors say to avoid red meat because the iron tends to progress cancer cell growth. Is there any efficacy to this?

  17. I’ve been meaning ask this question for a while now so I could make choices at the cafeteria at work. This timely post clears everything. Thanks so much.

    so basically,
    grass fed beef > grain fed beef
    grain fed beef > commercial poultry meat

    • Can you also let us know which one is better between the following choices.

      1. farmed salmon vs organic chicken
      2. farmed salmon vs grain fed beef
      3. grain fed beef vs organic chicken