Not everyone's in agreement when it comes to the health benefits of eating red meat versus fish, much less the potential risks. There are folks who argue that red meat isn't great for your health, while others say the same thing about fish. But the thing to keep in mind is, if you like these foods, it's always OK to eat them in moderation.
You should feel free to enjoy a burger or a piece of salmon, if that's your jam. But it's still helpful to know how certain foods might impact your health over time. When it comes to red meat, for example, health experts often point to the high amount of saturated and trans fats it contains, which can raise your cholesterol and contribute to heart disease.
That's why, if you'd like to eat these foods, experts suggest sticking to a few guidelines. "For red meat, I say enjoy it [one time a] week maximum, and try to have fish at least [twice a week]," Liz Wyosnick, MS, RDN, Seattle-based registered dietitian and owner of Equilibriyum, tells Bustle. And when possible, go for organic wild-caught or grass-fed options, which will help you avoid some potential negative side effects.
Read on below for some ways red meat versus fish can affect your body — both positively and negatively — according to experts.
1. Red Meat Can Help With Anemia
If you happen to be anemic — or iron deficient — red meat may be just what your body needs.
"Red meat is a good source of essential micronutrients including iron, zinc, and vitamin B12," Erica Ingraham, MS, RDN, tells Bustle. "For someone with iron deficiency anemia, red meat may be a good choice, as it contains heme iron, which is more bioavailable than plant-based iron."
Other foods, including fish, contain heme iron. But red meats, like beef, have the highest level per serving, making it a go-to for folks who need a little boost.
2. Fish Is Good For Your Brain
Fish is known for its high level of omega-3 fatty acids, which "play a vital role in brain development and growth," Ingraham says, making it a healthy choice for many people.
That said, it's always possible to get omega-3s from other sources, including plants and red meat from grass-fed cows, Igraham says. But "fatty" fish, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and cod, contain the highest levels, and provide the most benefits for your brain.
3. Red Meat Contains Saturated Fats
"Red meat (beef, pork, lamb, as well has processed meat like bacon and sausage) has more saturated fat per serving than any other form of meat," Wyosnick says. And that's definitely important to keep in mind, if you're a fan of these foods.
As an example, six ounces of beef contains about 10 grams of saturated fat, Wyosnick says, which can take a toll on your health over time, if you eat it often.
"In nutrition science, we know that a consistent intake of high saturated fat foods can contribute to higher levels of LDL (the bad cholesterol)," she says, "which leads to plaque formation in the arteries of the heart."
4. Some Fish Contains Heavy Metals
If you like fish, "it is advisable to eat about one to two 3-ounce servings of fatty fish a week," Rachel Fine MS, RD, CSSD, CDN, tells Bustle, to reap all those omega-3 health benefits. Good choices are wild-caught salmon, herring, anchovies, and sardines.
That said, you may want to avoid eating larger fish — like swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish — since these species are more likely to contain high levels of mercury, which can be bad for your health if you eat it on a regular basis.
"Eating too much fish can pose negative health risks since mercury levels can build up in the blood," Fine says. But it's still considered safe to eat a few servings of fish, like herring or salmon, a week, especially since the health benefits outweigh the risks.
5. Red Meat May Increase Your Risk Of Cancer
"Processed red meats such as hot dogs, ham, sausages, corned beef, beef jerky, canned meats, and meat-based preparations and sauces are class 1 carcinogens known to cause colorectal cancers," health and wellness expert Dr. Lindsey Elmore, tells Bustle, pointing to research from the World Health Organization.
And according to the American Institute for Cancer Research, eating more than 18 ounces of red meat per week increases your risk, as it's been shown to cause damage to the lining of the gut. Your risk also goes up if you cook your meat at high temperatures, since charred food is more likely to contain cancer-causing compounds.
You can still have red meat, of course. But do keep this risk in mind, and consider how much red meat you're eating per week.
6. Fish May Improve Your Mood
"Omega-3s from fish can [...] lift mood," Dr. Elmore says, "and people who regularly eat fish are less likely to suffer from depression and bipolar disorder." So if you're looking to boost your mental health, fatty fish may be a good choice.
Of course, you will still need to seek other forms of treatment, such as therapy or medication, since eating fish alone won't do the trick. But it is interesting to consider the connection between diet and mental health, and how fatty fish may help you feel a little bit better.
7. Fish Can Lower Inflammation
"Eating fish, like wild-caught salmon, helps inflammation due to the high concentration of omega-3," nutritional psychologist Dr. Margaret Paul, tells Bustle. And since inflammation is at the source of many health concerns, that's pretty great news.
Dr. Paul says both red meat and fish can contribute to good health, provided they are well-sourced. By choosing grass-fed and wild-caught options, you can reap the benefits of both food groups, such as reduced inflammation, without having as many negative effects.
Do, however, keep moderation in mind, since there are downsides to eating both red meat and fish of any kind, according to experts.