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Is Muscle Meat Bad for You?

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Some health experts claim muscle meat is bad for your health. Read more about this issue and what steps you can take to improve your health below.

We eat muscle meat more than any other kind of meat. For decades, it was thought that the lean meat of muscle were the most nutritious and healthiest. But new research challenged this long-held believe.

In fact, some researchers believe muscle meat may be the worst kind of meat for your health. Some evidence has found that the amino acid found in muscle meat, methionine, may cause an imbalance in the body and lead to negative health effects.

Find out if science really supports this claim below.

Why Does Amino Acid Type Matter?

Meat has 22 amino acids that make up its protein structures. Two of the main amino acids found in meat are methionine (found in high concentrations in muscle meat) and glycine (found in high concentrations in other meat types). Methionine is an essential amino acid. It is required for our survival.

Most sources of protein have some level of methionine but animal protein has the highest levels. The main function of methionine is to speed up or maintain chemical reactions so that processes occur in the body when they are supposed to. You will fight high concentrations of methionine in the following foods:

  • Egg whites
  • Beef
  • Spirulina
  • Lamb
  • Cheese
  • Chicken
  • Tuna
  • Brazil nuts

Glycine is also found in protein. Glycine is found in high levels in collagen, which is an abundant animal protein. However, glycine is found where collagen is found, in connective tissue, skin, cartilage, bones, and tendons- not in muscle meat.

Just like methionine, our bodies need glycine. However, glycine is non-essential because the body can make it on its own if necessary. You can find high levels of glycine in the following foods:

  • Gelatin
  • Yogurt
  • Animal skin
  • Sesame flour
  • Bacon
  • Egg whites
  • Lamb
  • Cuttlefish
  • Beef

A 2009 study published in the Journal of Biosciences found that what we produce of glycine is not enough to satisfy optimal collagen production. The researchers suggested that eating some glycine in addition to what we make on our own provides optimal nutrition and glycine levels for the health of the metabolism and other bodily systems.

The type of amino acids that you eat the most influence the health of your body as a whole. Not getting enough glycine could lead to health problems, but excessive levels of methionine may cause problems, as outlined below.

Potential Dangers of Methionine Consumption

Methionine is converted into the body into many things, one of which is another amino acid called homocysteine. This amino acid is produced when methionine is metabolized by the liver. A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2005 found that if a person has high homocysteine levels, it could lead to several chronic diseases, like heart disease and the narrowing of arteries leading to impaired blood vessel function.

This is why for many years, researchers recommended avoiding red meat and diets high in meat as it was strongly linked with heart problems.

Don't Jump to Conclusions

Although it is true that high homocysteine levels were found in patients who had heart problems and had suffered heart attacks, there is no direct link between homocysteine and heart damage. Several follow-up studies have found that reducing homocysteine levels does not influence the risk of heart disease.

In a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2010, when homocysteine levels were lowered with the use of B vitamins and folate after a heart attack, there was no reduction in future heart disease risk or the risk of death. In the case of individuals who already had heart problems, lowering homocysteine did nothing to reduce or change the risk.

However, there still evidence that perhaps, homocysteine damage can be prevented. It may not influence heart disease risk in already sick individuals, but it could influence the health of currently healthy people.

What Keeps Homocysteine in Check?

For the most part, you don't have to worry about homocysteine levels a whole lot. Your body is designed to make sure you don't get overwhelmed with certain amino acids. Your body can convert homocysteine back into methionine or turn it into another amino acid called cysteine, which is used as an antioxidant.

The only problem occurs when the body is prevented from recycling homocysteine. This happens when the body is lacking in nutrients used to convert the amino acid. If you are low in these nutrients, your homocysteine levels may rise to unhealthy levels.

Essential Nutrients to Keep Homocysteine in Check
  • Folate (or folic acid)
  • Vitamin B12
  • Other B vitamins
  • Choline
  • Glycine
  • Vitamin B6

Genetics can also play a role in whether your homocysteine levels can rise to unhealthy levels. However, if your intake of B vitamins, choline, and glycine are high, you should have no problem processing homocysteine.

The Balance of Glycine and Methionine

A study published in Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry in 2006 found that when you eat glycine along with methionine, it can prevent homocysteine levels from rising too high. it may be possible that by following the "nose to tail" style of eating, you can counteract some of the damage caused by eating muscle meat alone.

Is Muscle Meat Unhealthy?

No studies support the idea that muscle meat is completely unhealthy and should be avoided. Protein is essential for life, and eating muscle meat provides a simple source of usable protein for the body. The only evidence against muscle meat suggests that eating too much may cause homocysteine levels to rise, which could lead to an increased risk for heart problems.

However, eating muscle meat along with glycine-rich foods (like other parts of animal meat like the skin and tendons) has been shown to have protective effects against the possible damage of too much homocysteine.

In addition to glycine, a diet rich in B vitamins and choline (commonly found in eggs) also have a protective effect against the unsafe rise in homocysteine. When eaten in conjunction with a diet rich in B vitamins, your body can even convert homocysteine into an amino acid that has antioxidant properties that will fight cell damage.

Protect Your Health With Protein

Although some health experts suggest that healthy eating shuns muscle meat, there is no evidence that suggests that it is necessary to do so for optimal health. Muscle meats provide multiple nutrients necessary for bodily health. In combination with other animal meats and plenty of B vitamins, you should not see any adverse health effects by continuing to eat muscle meat.

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