The host sits you at a table in your favorite restaurant. Your eyes dart around the menu until the images of their selection of steaks grab your attention. The waiter is prompt and your request is simple, “New York strip, medium rare, please.”

Your date butts-in, “Should you be eating that? Is steak healthy?”

We have only recently begun to ask ourselves if we should be eating steak, at all. It is time that we attempt to answer the question, “Is steak healthy?”

This short article will offer general information about the best cuts of steak and breeds of cattle. It will also discuss what steak is. Also included are some of the dangers (cancers, exposure to carcinogens, cardiovascular disease and increased mortality) as well as the benefits of consuming steak.

Ribeye steal with spices

General Information about Steak

Steak, along with all other forms of beef, is from the muscle tissue of cattle. It comes in a multitude of cuts. Some of the best cuts include the t-bone, filet mignon, porterhouse, and ribeye. Cooking and preparation methods will affect the flavor of your steak. Marbling, a trade word for fat in the muscle tissue, will also greatly affect the flavor and quality of steak. With marbling, the more the merrier, so long as it is in thin lines instead of chunks. Certain breeds of cattle produce better steaks than other breeds—Brahman, Charolais, and Hereford are three of the top breeds.

Our love of steak has affected a part of American history. The great cattle drives of the 1800s birthed the cowboy culture of the West. This culture provided the background for famous characters, such as Billy the Kid, Buffalo Bill and Wyatt Earp.

Dangers of Consuming Steak

Is steak healthy? Here are some risks associated with eating red meat that should be known.

1. Cancer Risk and Exposure to Carcinogens

A number of studies have identified a relationship between the consumption of red meat with the development of cancers within the large intestine of those who consume moderate-to-high amounts of it. One study noted that the risk of developing colorectal cancers, when consuming more than 3.5 ounces of red meat, daily, increases by 12-17%.

Two carcinogens (HCA and PAH) are known to form in and on meats that are cooked at high temperatures (300 degrees F or above), for prolonged periods, or over a fire. Exposures to these elevate the risk of developing cancers, as shown in another study.

2. Cardiovascular Disease

While it is known that red meats are high in saturated fats, which raises the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, recent studies point to something less obvious, but just as dangerous. Microbes within our gut convert the amino acid L-carnitine, which is abundant in red meat, into TMAO. TMAO speeds the onset of arteriosclerosis, a form of cardiovascular disease, according to a study.

3. Increased Mortality

Consuming one serving of red meat greater than the USDA recommendation increases a person’s risk of mortality by 13% (according to a study).

Are there Benefits to Consuming Steak?

In 2016, the US beef industry was a 68-billion dollar contributor toward the economy (National Cattlemen’s Beef Association). This provides dependable jobs to the US workforce.

But is steak healthy? Red meat provides a number of necessary nutrients in high quantities. Red meat provides 8 essential amino acids more efficiently than plants. Lean red meats are very high in protein. Red meat is a natural source of many vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, folate, niacin, B6, B12, D, and E). Our cells make vitamin D during exposure to sunlight. For those confined indoors, red meat becomes an important source of this vitamin.

Red meat provides iron, zinc, selenium, magnesium, phosphorus, and copper. Significant to those chronically anemic, the form of iron in red meat is easy to absorb. Unbelievably, two healthy forms of fat (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids) are in lean red meat, as shown in a study.

Steak has and does play a prominent role in America. It is a part of our history. Moreover, it helps to drive a part of our economy. This food provides many needed nutrients to our diet. It also exposes those who consume it to substances that may have a negative contribution to their health. There are ways of reducing this risk—using lean cuts of meat, trimming fat, avoiding overcooking and smaller portions are only a few.

So is steak healthy? Do the potential health risks outweigh the known benefits? We are still learning about how steak and other red meats affect our health. This conversation is only beginning. Let us continue it.

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