Your completely science-backed guide to why everyone is wrong and red meat is super, super good for you.
This past Wednesday, I went out on a man-date with a good friend to celebrate his recent promotion and eat some big-ass, extra rare steaks.
Firstly, let me just say that I am in full favor of a weekly man-date.
As we’ve gotten older, the drive to go out to bars on weekends has kind of died down. Instead, I find myself at more tame dinners with my boys during the week, and because we all have such busy schedules, we end up pairing off more and more often.
For some reason, this seems to draw some looks from other people at the restaurant.
What the hell? Can’t two young, exceptionally well-dressed, exceptionally good looking guys with meticulously styled hair go out for a nice dinner without everyone assuming they’re getting naked together? Just because a guy is neat, dresses in the latest fashions, wears a lot of purple, and has an impressive shoe collection, does that automatically make him a homosexual? I submit that it does not.
2020 update: I wrote this back in 2009 and I’ve only gotten more right about this.
Anyway, like I was saying.
As we were talking – about business and fitness and all that – we wound up attracting the attention of two women at the table next to us. Naturally, I struck up a conversation with these two women, and in short order one of them referred to herself as “a classy broad.” Immediately, I knew she was cool – until I ordered the largest steak on the menu, cooked as rare as possible.
“Must be nice to be able to eat that without worrying about getting fat.”
I groaned inwardly and had an internal debate about whether or not I felt like getting into this conversation.
She didn’t seem like she was trying to be an ass; she just honestly believed that red meat was bad for your diet—a pretty common misconception.
I decided to be a nice guy (and maybe show off a little for her cute friend), and enlighten her as to why red meat is one of the world’s healthiest sources of protein – hell, one of the world’s healthiest foods.
No, not that awesome John Goodman movie. I’m talking about fat.
Yes, turkey and chicken have much less fat and, consequently, fewer calories than red meat, but a lot of the newer dietary research has shown that white meat pales in comparison (oh you better believe that pun was intended).
But not only does the higher fat content slow the rate of digestion (keeping you fuller for longer), but there are slightly less well known benefits of red meat – and I’m not talking about the satisfaction of tearing zombie-style into an extra rare steak.
Red meat is rich with an Essential Fatty Acid (EFA) known as arachidonic acid. This particular EFA is a building block for dienolic prostaglandins, a class of hormones with profound physiological effects: specifically, an increase protein turnover and synthesis.
Of particular interest to weight lifters, studies have shown prostaglandin concentrations to increase following resistance training; researchers believe that the eccentric component is the most important stimulus to the muscles, as the stretch appears to free arachidonic acid from muscle cells for synthesis of prostaglandins.
In short, higher levels of prostaglandins will allow you to maintain and possibly build more muscle while dieting – which is why a steak can be one of the most potent anabolic weapons in your arsenal.
Angling for a one-two science punch that would forever convert these women into steak-gorging fleshophiles, I leapt to my next point.
The main saturate found in beef in particular is stearic acid—the consumption of which has been shown to decrease plasma and liver cholesterol by reducing intestinal cholesterol absorption.
That’s right, steak can be good for your cholesterol levels.
I finished with a flourish (spilling water on myself, that is) and smiled in what I hope was a helpful, un-smug manner. I hope.
She thought about it for a second, nodded, and said the following.
“But what about saturated fat and heart attacks?”
Bollocks. I knew this was coming.
For one thing, less than half the fat in red meat is saturated fat. But most importantly, not all fat is bad – in fact, saturated fat falls squarely in the “good” column.
Saturated fat is easily the most unfairly vilified nutrient of all time.
The reasons are complex, but the problem with saturated fat is mostly the fault of a dude called Ancel Keys, who devised an extraordinarily malformed study in the 1950s that saw a correlation in saturated fat intake and heart disease.
The globe-spanning study was very flawed, cherrypicking seven countries and ignoring those with moderate to high saturated fat intake and a low incidence of heart disease, like Germany and Norway, as well as smaller communities like the Kenyan Masai and the Tokelau in Polynesia. The misinformation snowballed for decades, culminating in the god-awful food pyramid of the 1990s. You know, the one that prescribed up to 11 daily servings of rice and pasta and basically as little saturated fat as possible.
Happily, more recent studies are showing that saturated fat almost certainly doesn’t cause heart disease, including a 2010 evaluation of 21 studies and nearly 350,000 people. Plus, there’s evidence that the stuff encourages the liver to dump its fat cells, helping it to function more effectively.
But the icing on the steak cake is that eating saturated fat, especially when combined with regular weight lifting, creates a perfect storm of manliness and prompts the body to produce more of everybody’s favorite muscle-building, fat-burning elixir of youth, testosterone. That’s right, you always knew how macho steak was—and now the science backs it up.
Still, this woman seemed unconvinced. And little old me, all out of science.
Finally, I just said this. You know what? Fine. Maybe you’re right. Maybe despite all my sciencey talk, red meat ain’t good for you. But you know what? I don’t care. I love red meat. I love it with my belly and my heart and my intestines and anything else it might cause damage to do.
Even if you told me that you could 100% GUARANTEE that eating red meat was going to take 10 years off my life, I wouldn’t stop.
If you said I had to live till the ripe old age of 105, in perfect health, and die blissfully in my sleep, but I could never eat red meat again, I’d pass. That sounds truly miserable. I don’t want to live another 70 years without eating steak. It would make me all kinds of sad.
Both women left shortly thereafter.
My friend and I, now bereft of our erstwhile female companionship, continued our very straight meal, and ate our very rare steaks.
We talked of many things. Mostly feelings, fashion and fruity drinks.
But seriously. We’re straight. We just kinda like shopping.
Not as much as steak, though.
2020 Update: Ten years later, we’re still learning more and more about red meat’s health benefits. Turns out, I was a bit ahead of curve on this one. However, this one completely valid reason to not eat red meat: the environment. While I’ll never be a vegan, and I think I can move the needle on helping climate change more by using my platform to elect those who will take it more seriously, agriculture is a big culprit for climate change worldwide.
But, if you’re on a plant-based diet I fully respect and support you in that decision. And for all meat-eaters, I encourage you to look for small, sustainable, (ideally local) farming to get your meat from. It’s better for the environment, for small businesses, and for you. That’s probably a whole other article, but if you live in New York or Las Angeles, you can get Belcampo meats delivered to you. We don’t have a promotional deal with them, they’re genuinely just awesome and I’d love for you to support them.