Red meat has long been associated with heart disease risk because it is high in saturated fat and cholesterol.

For this reason, consuming red meat (especially fatty cuts of meat, such as steaks with visible marbling) was widely discouraged for several decades, until research began to reveal that it may not be as harmful as once thought.

However, there are still some potential concerns about the fatty acid composition of conventionally raised meats.

This article shares 4 reasons it’s OK to include high fat red meats — beef, specifically — in your diet, along with some precautions regarding high fat meats.

Red meat can be incredibly nutritious. It’s rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals.

However, there are some subtle differences in nutrient content between fatty and lean meats. This table compares the nutrient content of 1 ounce (28 grams) of cooked beef brisket with and without the visible fat eaten (1, 2):

Beef brisket, cooked, lean and fat eatenBeef brisket, cooked, lean only eaten
Protein8 grams8 grams
Fat6 grams3 grams
Carbs0 grams0 grams
Fiber0 grams0 grams
Choline5% of the Daily Value (DV)6% of the DV
Niacin6% of the DV7% of the DV
Vitamin B1229% of the DV30% of the DV
Phosphorus5% of the DV5% of the DV
Selenium12% of the DV13% of the DV
Zinc15% of the DV18% of the DV

Beef also contains smaller amounts of several other nutrients.

The nutrient concentration in lean and fatty beef is strikingly similar. Lean beef contains slightly more vitamins and minerals, except for the fat-soluble vitamins D, E, and K, which are stored in fat tissue. But both lean and fatty meats provide only trace amounts of these vitamins (1, 2).

Because they are so similar in nutrient content, this isn’t necessarily a reason to choose lean meat over fatty meat.

Most conventionally raised beef today is fed a diet of grain, primarily corn, whereas a more natural diet for ruminant cows is grass.

The cow’s diet does appear to affect the composition of fatty acids in beef, which can be more significant if you choose to purchase fattier cuts.

Because corn feed is rich in omega-6 fatty acids, the fatty acid profile of corn-fed beef is higher in omega-6s. On the other hand, grass contains larger quantities of omega-3 fats, so grass-fed beef tends to contain more omega-3s (3).

A diet that includes large amounts of omega-6s, without sufficient omega-3s to balance it out, may cause inflammation (4).

Based on this, grass-fed meats may be a slightly better choice than grain-fed meats.

On the low carb, high fat, moderate protein keto diet, your body burns fat for energy rather than carbs (5).

Therefore, a fatty cut of meat may be a better choice energy-wise, because it provides you with more fat that can be used for fuel.

Another reason you don’t have to go out of your way to avoid high fat cuts of beef is that saturated fat and cholesterol may not be as harmful as researchers once thought they were.

One 2020 review that investigated several studies on saturated fat and heart disease found that the association between the two appears to be very weak (6).

The recommendation to avoid saturated fat for heart health appears to arise from just a few studies that were not representative of the larger body of research. Still, the American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated and replacing it with polyunsaturated fat (6).

However more research is needed for a decisive conclusive.

It’s still important to understand that high fat cuts of meat may have some downsides.

If you’re counting calories, you may want to choose leaner cuts of meat. Fat has more calories than protein or carbs do, so fattier cuts of meat may add excess calories to your diet (1, 2).

High fat processed meats such as bacon, sausage, and ham have also been linked to certain cancers, including colon cancer and stomach cancer (7, 8, 9).

However, the mechanism behind this link is not yet clear, and most of the evidence for it comes from observational studies rather than high quality trials (7, 8, 9).

Regardless, unprocessed meats appear to be less risky than processed meats.

Finally, consider that leaner meats — like turkey, chicken, and fish — are also rich in nutrients and serve as excellent sources of protein. You can add high fat red meats to your diet for variety, but they’re certainly not a requirement to meet your needs.

Although high fat red meats have long been blamed for heart disease, we don’t definitively know whether there’s a clear link between saturated fat, dietary cholesterol, and heart health.

For this reason, you may consider including high fat red meats in your diet. They are rich in nutrients and ideal for people following a keto diet. Additionally, grass-fed versions may offer higher quantities of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.

However, try to stick to unprocessed versions, since processed meats are associated with increased cancer risk.

Furthermore, to ensure that you have a balanced diet, speak with a healthcare professional such as a doctor or registered dietitian before starting or increasing consumption of red meat.

Just one thing

Try this today: Want to dive deeper into the meat debate? Check out this article about whether meat can fit into a healthy diet.

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