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(francesco perre/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Ask a health expert

My wife says medium rare steak is bad: say it ain't so Add to ...

The question

I love my steak medium rare, but my wife says it's bad for me. What's up with that?

The answer

There are a few nutritional drawbacks associated with red meat, but you can work around them by making smart choices, not overeating red meat, and not eating it cooked well done (Your medium rare steak is actually healthier for you that one that's well done, but more on that later.)

Some cuts of red meat can be high in saturated fat, the type of fat that to raises LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood. When buying meat, select lean cuts such as sirloin, flank steak, eye of the round, beef tenderloin, lean and lean and extra lean ground beef, pork tenderloin, and center cut pork chops. Any cut of meat that comes from an animal's stomach area - for example, rib eye steak, rib chops, spareribs - will be high in saturated fat.

When it comes to red meat - beef, veal, pork, lamb - portion size is also important. Many studies show that people who eat the most red meat - as well as processed meat (luncheon meat, bacon, hot dogs, sausages) - are at greater risk for colon cancer than those who eat little red meat.

Cooking meat at high temperatures when grilling, broiling and frying creates chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that are not present in uncooked meats. They're formed when natural compounds in meat react at high temperatures.

In lab animals, heterocyclic amines have been shown to cause colon tumours. In humans, a heavy intake of certain HCAs has been linked with a higher risk of colon polyps.

It's also thought the form of iron in red meat - heme iron - may also damage colon cells and trigger cancer growth.

If you eat red meat, cancer experts advise eating less than 18 ounces per week. Limit your serving size to no more than three ounces. To help reduce portion size, enjoy small amounts of red meat in stir-fries and pastas. When having steak, serve it in thin slices rather than as a whole piece.

To minimize the formation of HCAs when grilling your steak, keep portion size small (that means it will take less time to cook), cook at a lower temperature, and marinate your steak (ingredients in marinades reduce the formation of HCAs).

Send dietitian Leslie Beck your questions at dietitian@globeandmail.com. She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Leslie Beck.

Click here to see Q&As from all of our health experts.

The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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