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3 healthy red meat alternatives that put beef to shame

August 19, 2016 (Updated: June 16, 2020)
Lily Moran

As a healthy eater, you know that too much red meat—like beef—isn’t often a good choice.

The morality of the brutal lives most cows live in alone is enough to make one ponder vegetarianism. But, in addition to that, most cattle are pumped full of hormones and antibiotics. Not to mention, even free-range organic farms usually feed cows a diet ripe for creating dangerous infections.

But I understand that, for some of us, the occasional craving overwhelms will power. Especially in the dog days of summer, when it’s hard to walk outside without the smell of something grilling on a nearby barbeque.

However, if you’re someone with a taste for beef, not all hope is lost. There are plenty of alternatives that taste just as good—no, really. And they don’t have all the downsides.

Beef is Killing Us

It’s important to know exactly why you want to avoid beef in the first place.

First up are the antibiotics. You see—thanks to overcrowded, inhumane conditions—cows are very prone to infection and disease when they’re being raised for meat.

It’s similar to how dangerous diseases in humans only really became a problem when we started living in dense cities. The close proximity of hosts makes it easy for viruses and bacteria to jump from person to person, at a terrifying pace, infecting a large population.

So cattle farmers try to stop this process by keeping their cows on a constant regimen of antibiotics.

So when you eat a lot of beef, you may be unwittingly medicating yourself with antibiotics—and destroying your gut flora.

In addition, constant exposure to antibiotics actually breeds drug-resistant strains of bacteria known as “superbugs.”

Next come hormones. In order to fatten cows up, many farmers load their cattle up with all sorts of growth hormones.

When you, in turn, eat that beef, your estrogen and progesterone levels can go haywire.

And wreaking havoc on estrogen and progesterone levels is a great way to get cancer—especially breast cancer.

But the bad news doesn’t end there. Many cattle are fed corn—which, sadly, increases the risk of e. coli outbreaks.

When cows eat grass, as they were biologically designed to do, their stomach (or rumen) is pH neutral. But when they’re force-fed a diet of corn, it creates an acidic in environment in the cows’ rumens.

Typically, OUR stomach acids are enough to kill off the occasional exposure to e. coli. But the corn-fed cattle industry is actually breeding acid-resistant strains of e. coli…leaving us more vulnerable to infection that we’ve ever been (have you noticed the increased incidence of e. coli outbreaks in recent years?).

The other red meat

Luckily, you can avoid many of these issues by sticking to organic, grass-fed beef, raised in free-range conditions. It may be more expensive, but I hope you see why it’s worth it.

But that won’t protect you from all the dangers of beef.

For instance, heme—a protein found in red meat—often turns into N-nitroso compounds in your gut.

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Chronic Inflammation Decoded

Don’t worry about the name. Worry that these compounds have been linked to a number of cancers, with colorectal cancer being the worst.

And when you either fry red meat, or cook it over open flames, you start a chemical reaction that creates heterocyclic amines. These nasty compounds damage DNA in your body, increasing your risk of every cancer.

Three Tasty Red Meats That Embarrass Beef

As more consumers wake up to the dangers of beef, more alternatives are springing up.

The most readily available—and perhaps the best alternative—is bison.

Bison contains far fewer calories than beef—only 96 in a three-ounce portion, compared to 162 in beef.

Bison meat also contains less than a quarter the fat, yet it has just as much protein, and nearly the same amount of Vitamin B12—perhaps the most important nutrient you get in red meat.

What’s more, when prepared correctly, many people don’t even know they’re eating bison, instead of cattle. This isn’t a case of accepting a poor substitute in the name of health. This is a case of switching in a nearly-indistinguishable, healthy alternative.

In fact, for those with sensitive pallets who can tell the difference, bison often comes out on top in taste tests. Without carrying the negatives of beef.

Another option is venison. With a third the fat, venison is a much leaner meat. It does have slightly more cholesterol—but venison also contains a lot more protein, so you can eat much less and feel just as full.

Venison does taste different, so this will be a matter of preference. Some people love venison, while others can’t stand it.

But give it a try! It’s a much healthier alternative to “regular” steak.

Finally, one exotic meat is starting to make serious inroads here in America. I’m talking about ostrich.

You probably don’t think of birds when you think of red meat, but ostrich definitely fits the bill. And it has less than half the saturated fat, while boasting more protein and more than double the Vitamin B12, compared to beef.

The danger with ostrich is how often it’s overcooked. If you aren’t careful, ostrich meat can dry out easily—and that has sometimes led people to look down on the meat.

That’s a mistake. If you have well-prepared ostrich, dryness isn’t a problem at all.

Whatever your taste, if you’re determined to eat red meat this summer—or anytime—try to replace beef with one of these three healthier alternatives.

They’ll often be found in healthy and organic food markets, or the organic section of grocery stores.

Your well-being is worth the extra time it takes to seek out a red meat that delivers all the taste, and the vitamins, your body craves—without the drawbacks.


  • Health and Nutrition Letter, “Should You Try ‘Heart-Healthier’ Red Meat Alternatives?, Tufts University, Dec 2013, 31:10:6
  • Jan Annigan, Adverse Effects Of Red Meat, SF Gate

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