We’ve spent years hearing about how vegetarians are thinner, healthier, and longer-lasting than the rest of us, but new research has found that it’s a little more complicated than that: A recent study published in the journal PLoS One examined the eating habits and health of 1,320 people and found that vegetarians had higher incidences of cancer and more need for healthcare than meat-eaters.
Though the research is not exactly a free pass to double down at the nearest burger joint—it’s just one of many such comparison studies, the results of which swing both ways—it does demonstrate the difficulty of eliminating a single food group in the name of health. So, like the fat-free and carb-free diet phases of yesteryear, the strict meat-free way of eating is dwindling in popularity. It’s not just the muscle-obsessed body builders who are ordering steaks with gusto: Endurance athletes like runners, swimmers and triathletes are turning to red meat for sustained energy, more muscle, and faster recovery.
“For so long so many people thought red meat was taboo,” says nutritionist and exercise physiologist Felicia Stoler, who works with Olympic endurance athletes and is a former nutritionist for the New York City marathon. “But there’s nothing wrong with a good steak, and athletes are finding it can be exactly what they need during intense training.”
Red meat is packed with protein, of course, which helps build muscle. But it’s real boon is that it keeps red blood cells healthy, says Stoler, which combats fatigue and makes your body more efficient at fueling itself. The iron in meat binds to hemoglobin in blood and makes it easier for red blood cells to deliver oxygen to body tissues, including those that make up your muscles and lungs. Meanwhile, the vitamin B12 in meat helps ensure you have enough red blood cells in the first place. Your body doesn’t have an efficient way to store water-soluble B12, and stomach acid can easily destroy what comes in B12 supplements. So, it’s best to get it from food, says Stoler. The top food source of B12? Red meat.
No longer relegated to shrink-wrapped packages in the grocery store, beef is being cut and carved by artisanal butchers across the country. With a focus on local, well-raised animals, these shops are go-to sources for healthy meats.