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Is It Safe To Eat Red Meat During Pregnancy?

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Some experts warn pregnant women against eating red meat, but is that good advice? 

 

My husband Tyler and I are expecting our first baby in June, and we are excited to add a little cowboy or cowgirl to our family. A few weeks ago, I shared our news on my Facebook profile; following that, I received a message from an old college classmate that really piqued my attention.

She wrote to me: “Amanda, I have been hearing a lot about how pregnant women aren't supposed to eat red meat while carrying a baby. I was just wondering if your doctor told you that or if you have heard that from others and how you would respond.”

Of course, this being my first pregnancy, I’m learning as I go. When I found out we were expecting, like many newbie mothers-to-be, I ran to the store to buy pregnancy books to help guide me through this experience. Books like “What To Expect When You’re Expecting,” and “How To Make A Pregnant Woman Happy” (the latter was for Tyler) explained to me the ins and outs of growing a human for 40 weeks and what I could expect.

 

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One of the big things these books included was a list of dos and don’ts, such as no sushi, no wine, no hot tubs, drink plenty of water, and get lots of sleep. Red meat was also listed in the “don’t” category, with instructions to avoid cold cuts and processed meats unless they were fully cooked. They also advised to make sure burgers and steaks were well done. One book even warned of the dangers of hamburger, and how it was best to have a local butcher freshly grind organic beef to avoid contamination.

You can cue my eye roll here.

Along with her inquiry about red meat and my pregnancy, my college friend forwarded me an article she had come across featured in Baby Med, “A New Reason To Cut Back On Red Meat During Pregnancy.”

Writer Rachel Neifeld, RD, CDN, immediately shows her bias by opening her opinion piece with how red meat is not a good protein source for pregnant women or the general population. She warns that steaks and burgers, along with bacon, hot dogs and salami, can raise mortality rates by 20%.

She then writes, “A study looked at data for the Nurses’ Health Study II cohort between 1991 and 2001 and included pregnancies free of previous gestational diabetes (GDM) or other chronic diseases. The researchers found that women with the highest intake of animal protein had a much greater risk of developing GDM than those with the lowest intake. Findings showed that substituting 5% of animal protein for vegetable protein could cut the risk of GDM in half. The study also showed that the substitution of red meat with poultry, fish, nuts, or legumes demonstrated a significantly lower risk of GDM.”

Now, I’m neither a doctor nor a nutritionist, but there’s something fishy about pinning GDM on red meat. It reminds me of a similar article I responded to awhile back about a nutritionist who claimed red meat increases diabetes risk in the general population. I’m simply not buying it. Red meat is a low glycemic food packed with protein to keep us satiated longer. It’s a slow-burning fuel that doesn’t cause a spike in insulin, so how could it possibly be a cause for diabetes?

Moreover, GDM wasn’t an issue for our ancestors, like the Inuits, who carried healthy babies while thriving on meat-based diets. It’s just common sense, in my opinion. My doctor told me to eat plenty of protein, consume nutrient-dense foods like beef, and cut back on sugary items like fruit juice to help me limit weight gain during pregnancy. Suffice it to say, my doctor is a good one!

The writer then recommends more beans, lentils, tuna, nuts and soy-protein meat substitutes as protein options of choice. That’s fine and dandy, but as a pregnant woman, I can tell you I’m not craving tuna and tofu for my meals, nor do I think they would fuel my body like beef would.

To further support my opinion that red meat is a power food during pregnancy, let’s take a look at this article entitled, “The Importance Of Red Meat During Pregnancy And Weaning,” from Carrie Ruxton, PhD, registered dietician and public health nutritionist.

Ruxton writes, “Red meat is often in the news but not necessarily for positive reasons. Whether the story relates to horse meat in burgers, heart disease or cancer, the media coverage tends to raise concerns rather than giving us balanced information. So, should pregnant women eat red meat? And is it safe to give red meat to our babies and toddlers? From a dietitian’s viewpoint, I would say ‘yes!’

Red meat is one of the best sources of iron in the diet as it contains a special type, called heme iron, which we can absorb efficiently. In contrast, while spinach is viewed as a good alternative to meat, it contains non-heme iron, only 10% of which is absorbed by our bodies. Surveys show that women, teenage girls and toddlers tend to have low iron intakes and, in many cases, have low iron stores. This means that they are more susceptible to iron deficiency and the associated symptoms of tiredness and loss of concentration. Eating red meat is a good way to boost iron stores.”

Of course, whatever a woman chooses to eat during her pregnancy is her decision, and hers alone. For myself and my baby, I choose to ignore the fear-mongering and base my decisions on science and common sense. Excuse me, while I go eat a steak now.

What do you think? Is red meat a good choice for pregnant women? Share your stories and advice for new mothers in the comments section below.

 

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Discuss this Blog Entry 28

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jan 28, 2014

when my wife was pregnant 30 years ago with my first son she craved sirloin steak, very rare. Our doctor said go ahead and eat it as her body is probably needing the iron from the meat. Our son and wife are both doing fine 30 years later

W.E. (not verified)
on Jan 28, 2014

Yes, of course red meat is great food for you during your pregnancy! Congratulations! Red meat certainly does not cause gestational diabetes. The things that cause gestational diabetes are the same as those that cause Type II diabetes--an overabundance of sugar and carbohydrates in the diet and not enough conjugated linoleic acid to help regulate human metabolism. The meat and milk of ruminant animals raised on grass are the very best sources of CLA. The only cautions you might want to heed are those advising against hormone implants in the beef you eat. Remember that our ancestors ate grassfed meats with no hormones, antibiotics or steroids--not cattle whose diets and metabolisms had been messed with.

John Schafer (not verified)
on Jan 28, 2014

Modern beef does NOT contain antibiotics. It is illegal to sell beef with even trace residues and testing indicates that the rate of violations is almost non-existent. Moreover, the hormone level in modern beef from implanted cattle is not much different than implant-free and/or grass-fed cattle. If our ancestors ate beef from a gravid female the hormone level was much higher than from any implanted steer or heifer.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jan 28, 2014

Very well stated John. I appreciate that this is said to the masses as the push for antibiotic free and hormone free is in high demand among the public. What the public needs to realize is that there are withdrawal time for antibiotics and hormone implants and if the meat tests positive for these residues not only does the meat not get put into the human food chain the producer does not get paid either.

W.E. (not verified)
on Jan 28, 2014

Do you know the work of Dr. Weston Price? A great advocate for the kind of diet that produces healthy babies and children, he understood the need for animal proteins and fats, along with other traditional foods that kept our ancestors and their children healthy.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jan 28, 2014

Well said, I couldn't agree more with your comments. We live in a society today that thrives on the media driven crap that has minimal to no scientific basis and for darn sure has no relation to common sense. The majority of the individuals in our society have forgotten how to think or reason for their self and they believe whatever the media presents them without much question. Every vegan based article I have read expresses the same concerns you mention, iron sources, vit B12, etc. .

John Aquilino (not verified)
on Jan 28, 2014

First, humans did not get this far in history eating arugala. Second, don't forget to drink a lot of whole milk...stay as far away from non-fat as possible through the little one's toddler years. Fat build brain cells. Eat and drink up.

Ben (not verified)
on Jan 28, 2014

I have 3 sons who weighed between 9-1/2 and 10-1/2 pounds when born. My wife ate beef probably twice a day before, during and since she was pregnant and everyone is doing great. My advice to you would be this: stress is bad for you, so don't worry, be happy. Enjoy life and congratulations!

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jan 28, 2014

My Mom was a great lady I miss her. She raised 8 children and had none of the perks we can't live without. She milked cows fed the chickens and ate meat and drank the whole milk. She lived to age 96

John Schafer (not verified)
on Jan 28, 2014

There is some legitimate concern about pregnant women being exposed to listeria in processed meats even if they were precooked. Make sure all sausage, luncheon meat, deli meats, hamburger, etc. are thoroughly heated. Listeria thrives in a refrigerated environment.

South Wind (not verified)
on Jan 28, 2014

A more important research project for you might be to determine what you should or shouldn't eat to prevent allergy's in the baby. We have one family of Grandchildren with three boys. Oldest one is five and normal. The second one is two and a half and allergic to milk, eggs, cheese, soy, and peanuts. The peanut deal is life threatening. During one attack his tongue swelled to the point it was choking him. His parents carry a syringe to give him in case he contacts a peanut. Baby brother has a few allergys but nothing like the second one. Must be environment.

Ben (not verified)
on Jan 28, 2014

For your own sake, ignore the previous comment. One thing my wife and I quickly realized when she was pregnant for the first time is that, for some dumb reason, people love telling you their horror stories. There's a simple 3 step plan for dealing with the fear-mongers: 1) smile. 2) nod. 3) forget.

Charles R. phelps (not verified)
on Jan 28, 2014

Some people will say anything to accommodate their believe, with absolutely no justification. Out of selfish behavior they do a lot more damage than good. What a shame.

on Jan 28, 2014

Congratulations! No advice here, I'm not a mother (but I do love to eat beef) - but I do want to wish you a healthy pregnancy, and again - congrats!

on Jan 28, 2014

My doctors have always been shocked to learn how much red meat I eat, but they’ve never discouraged it. (The back story is in this blog post: http://www.blackinkwithcab.com/2012/11/27/beefs-a-trip-day-27-on-the-tas....) In fact, I’ve never had to worry about failing my iron test! I’ve had four healthy babies in the last five years and I believe that staying active (which is much easier to do if you’ve got energy) is the best way to cut the risk for gestational diabetes. But I know you already know that.

Congrats on your upcoming arrival—it’s so fun to watch a miracle unfold. Enjoy it!

Amy (not verified)
on Jan 28, 2014

Congratulations on the exciting journey through your first pregnancy! I wish you a healthy and happy pregnancy. The best advice I can give to a pregnant women is "Ignore the advice and do what feels right." Advice and opinions are like...well, you know how that saying goes. :-) The point is, everyone has one and for some reason they all feel the need to share them with you.

And John Schafer (previous comments) is absolutely right. The fear about hormones, antibiotics, etc. in meat is perpetuated by ignorant people who believe everything Chipotle tells them. Like a great meat scientist (my husband!) once told me. "Red meat isn't bad for you. Now, blue-green meat? That's bad for you." ;-)

on Jan 28, 2014

As a scientist and engineer, I can tell you that there are a lot of trash studies out there. Also all media (and people for that matter) have bias.

Anytime a study is referenced, go to the study and if the article (or person) does not reference the study, take it with a grain of beef seasoning. (Cowboy logic says the water is always clearer closest to the source.) Ask questions like who prepared the study, what type of study, and what were the study's conclusions?

Sometimes studies are performed to see if a thought deserves further attention (fund raiser), like a feasibility study. Scientific studies do not use the term feasibility study. Also studies often run out of money or time and they will say things such as "this information demonstrates that their may be a potential link between this and that which deserves further study to be conclusive." Translated that means "we are out of money and need more," or "here is an opportunity for another PhD thesis." Look for trash science. There was a study on dam removal that said there is a 86.6% chance.... (red flag! too many significant figures). Later the probably of error was plus or minus 800%! Be aware of words such as: could, may, relate, perhaps, etc. Thes words also mean may not, could not, perhaps not, etc. A strong relation means "it doesn't feel right but there is insufficient evidence to say conclusively." There are all kinds of studies as well. The hierarchy of medical studies from least to most reliable is: expert opinion, non-experimental studies, observational studies, non-randomized interventional studies, randomized controlled studies, and systematic reviews and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. They are all studies! Some are worth investigating; others are not.

Never trust a non-professional's interpretation of a study or its conclusions. Go to the study itself and come to your own conclusions. If the study is too complicated to understand, then seek a professional.

For example, people will say that life expectancy is increasing and we are living longer. That is only slightly true. That is because they do not understand the numbers. Average life expectancy is heavily skewed by childhood deaths, and infant mortality rates. In 1900, the U.S. infant mortality rate was approximately 100 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. In 2000, the rate was 6.89 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. (see http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/our-unrealistic-views-of-death-th... and http://www.agingstats.gov/Main_Site/Data/2010_Documents/Health_Status.aspx)

To summarize, have a healthy (?) portion of steak while pregnant and relax (just my unprofessional opinion). Worrying can cause all kinds of chemical reactions in the body. Some may be harmful to unborn children.

Vic (not verified)
on Jan 28, 2014

I have to comment on this one. I agree with some of th previous posts that Red meat is good not Blue-Green Its all how you handle your food. make sure its clean if it potentially has bacteria cook it to kill it. Furthermore look at diseases in poultry and pork and how confined they are raised compared to cattle. Fruits and Vegtables- if something pissed on it, its probably not healthy clean it or cook it..My opinion is its not the food its how its handled they all have benefits (I still prefer BEEF) but bacteria and virus could be detrimental, dont believe me? think what your cattle pregnancy protection vaccine consists of, viral protection, you don't vaccinate against the feed they will eat but contaminations they encounter whatever that may be. I'm not an expert just throwing out some old fashioned commonsense and reasoning.

Robert Gwilt (not verified)
on Jan 28, 2014

Congratulations on having your first baby. It will for sure
be a life changing experience. We have 2 girls and l boy and they are all very different people. Love em to death.
You should worry more about your gluten problem than Red
Meat. All the very best wishes.

Jay (not verified)
on Jan 28, 2014

Congratulations and good for you in turning to science. I think you missed the studies on cognitive development. There are good studies that show that your baby's brain development can be negatively impacted without the nutrients that come from beef. Where else can you get such a great source of bio available iron, zinc and b vitamins? Don't forget beef when weaning your child. The benefits in immune response, cognitive development, etc. continue through childhood. There are some good studies that beef should be the first pureed food offered your baby. Not eating beef when pregnant is child abuse.

on Jan 28, 2014

Not eating beef when pregnant is child abuse.

Now that statement should be bannered on bumper stickers, billboards, child services literature, and a sign on the wall of your doctor's office

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jan 28, 2014

The allegation that red meat if detrimental for pregnant women is pretty absurd. I probably concur that hot dogs, luncheon meats and any items with nitrates/nitrites in them should probably be avoided, but to link protein (meat) with gestational diabetes is just weird. I think carbohydrates and food with links to glyphosate (GMOs) are foods that should be limited - and not just for pg women! Organic fruits and veggies are the best, even though they are not always easily accessible. Good luck on your impending motherhood; you are brave to publicly put that info "out there", knowing you will get all kinds of advice! You might be interested in the following link:

http://people.csail.mit.edu/seneff/WAPF_Slides_2012/Offsite_Seneff_Hando...

W.E. (not verified)
on Jan 29, 2014

Amanda, the best things you can do are to eat a balanced diet, as we know you do, to get plenty of exercise, as you have been doing during your entire youth, and to breastfeed your baby throughout infancy. Cattle feeders, if you want to invest your money in the stuff the market wants to sell you, implants, beta agonists and other stuff, go ahead. Withdrawal time is a hedge against their effects on people, reducing but not eliminating them, and we produce beef for a lot of young parents who don't want their children exposed to those things. Period. Cattle get along just fine on just forage, as they have for tens of thousands of years. Whatever they eat, they are. Whatever we eat, we are. And whatever a pregnant mother eats ends up in her unborn child. It's up to us to keep the meat we eat wholesome by being sure every bite our cattle take in is wholesome. Yes, hormones, steroids, antibiotics and other additives work as shortcuts to shorten feeding time and sometime increase feeder profits, but they aren't necessary for cattlemen like us who raise our critters from conception to consumer. Growing numbers of people, including microbiologists, understand that nature provides perfect food, and the less people interfere, the better. Those of us who have tried management-intensive grazing understand that we are all much better off managing our herds to help us improve the soil and the forage quality, which ends up in the beef we produce. If you haven't tried it, you can't possibly understand.

on Jan 29, 2014

Nature does not provide perfect food and human intervention is absolutely necessary in some cases, even in well managed grass-fed operations. Parasite control is vital and can have human health implications if ignored

W.E. (not verified)
on Jan 31, 2014

Jake, nutrient content was the topic here, not parasites. The point was that nature's nutrients are far better for babies and children than man-made or manipulated nutrients. As for parasites, management-intensive grazing which rests the land after grazing until it has truly recovered is one of the best ways to reduce parasite loads. For stubborn parasite problems, we know of several safe and natural means of relieving those. The best long-term solution is close observation and genetic selection for cattle that have natural resistance to parasite and insect problems, culling cattle that show persistent parasite problems. Observe your herd bulls, for example. The ones that have the biggest fly loads are seldom (if ever) the best choice for your particular environment. Naturally healthy cattle are always more profitable, and produce more naturally healthy beef for our children.

BG (not verified)
on Jan 30, 2014

Congrats on the new little one!! We added the next generation to our farm/ranch almost 1 year ago. I ate my fair share of beef, (and other meat source proteins). I watched what I ate and made sure I "made every bite count" in terms nutrient dense foods and avoided empty calories and those foods that didn't make me feel full longer than 2 minutes. I did avoid cold cuts, and raw meats and highly processed meat products.
My advise is that you are pregnant not DEAD... Do what you feels is right and safe (with the ranching) and you will be fine. I worked cows 3 weeks before I gave birth and everyone told me that I shouldn't because I was pregnant (I ran the hydrolic chute, safest place to be, and left the sorting and loading the tub to the boys)....well I was told by most of my friends and family that I should stay away from the cattle all together because I was pregnant....I kept reminding them that I have done this my whole life and know what I am doing.....
1 AWESOME advantage of being pregnant and not being able to hop the fence is it becomes a great incentive to get the hubby to install some gates in handy places....I got 8 gates hung around our place that needed to be done for some time!!!!!! Use this gift to your advantage!!!!!
Good Luck!!!

Shonda (not verified)
on Feb 3, 2014

Amanda -

I know you have seen on my Facebook that my husband and I are expecting as well. Given the many life and career changes for me, coupled with this new joy in our lives - balanced nutrition has been vital to keeping my energy and overall well being up. I can honestly say that I just could not do it without ground beef! Right now chicken and pork are just not doing it for me and I can only have tuna once a week. Beef and especially lean ground beef and sliced tri-tip have been staples..... I have never questioned beef's safety and importance in my pregnancy - but to be sure, I did check with my doctor. She applauded my choices and loved the idea that I was mixing it up fresh vegetables.

The other part that has driven me crazy about the pregnancy propaganda besides the no red meat is the "organic, hormone free hype" coming from daily pregnancy eNewsletters like WhatToExpect.com.... more often I find myself on these sights pronouncing the good beef and agriculture word. It is almost as if these bloggers believe agriculture is out to get lowly American consumers. Agriculture and the beef industry needs to continue the positive conversation about what it is we do.

Thanks Amanda for being apart of that conversation.

David Dunham (not verified)
on Feb 3, 2014

There is a story in The Farmers Forum section of The Forum (Fargo-Moorheads newspaper) about research at NDSU regarding beef consumption. You can find it here:

http://www.inforum.com/event/article/id/425166/publisher_ID/1/

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”

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Amanda Radke

A fifth-generation rancher from Mitchell, SD, Amanda grew up on a purebred Limousin cattle operation in which she and husband Tyler are active. She graduated with a degree in agriculture journalism...

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