Chemicals produced by microbes in the digestive tract may be partly responsible for the increased heart disease risk associated with higher consumption of red meats such as beef and pork, a new study suggests, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
Cardiovascular disease – which includes heart attacks and strokes – is the leading cause of death in the U.S. and around the world. As people age, their cardiovascular disease risk increases.
But risks can be lowered by eating a diet emphasizing fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole grains, lean protein and fish, staying physically active, getting enough sleep, maintaining a healthy body weight, not smoking and properly managing blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
“Most of the focus on red meat intake and health has been around dietary saturated fat and blood cholesterol levels,” study co-author Meng Wang said in a news release. Wang is a postdoctoral fellow at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston.
“Based on our findings, novel interventions may be helpful to target the interactions between red meat and the gut microbiome to help us find ways to reduce cardiovascular risk,” she said.
A collection of controversial research reviews on consumption of red meat and processed meat published recently in the Annals of Internal Medicine seemingly overturns years of public health guidelines and recommendations from a range of experts and organizations. It was met with resounding criticism from many nutrition experts. A close look at the findings can help you make informed choices for your own health.
The Controversy: The reviews, conducted by an independent group of scientists, concluded that adults should continue unprocessed red meat and processed meat consumption at current levels. The research (composed of three separate meta-analyses and two narrative reviews of existing studies on red meat and processed meat consumption) quickly led to media headlines with statements like, “meat is back!”
This conclusion is highly controversial because prior meta-analyses of long-term observational studies have consistently found that intake of processed meats (like bacon, sausage, hot dogs, ham, jerky, and deli meats) is linked to higher risk of colorectal cancer, stroke, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. In these earlier studies, unprocessed red meats (beef, pork, and lamb) were not linked to any evidence for benefits, but were generally linked to less robust or consistent evidence of harms than processed meats, except for higher risk of type 2 diabetes at higher levels of intake. In 2015 the World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that processed meat is carcinogenic to humans and that consumption of red meat is “probably” carcinogenic to humans. Similarly, the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research systematically reviewed the evidence and recommend limiting red meat consumption to moderate amounts and consuming very little processed meat.
I have been hearing a lot lately about the new fake meat, plant-based, products that are becoming so popular. Are they really healthier than meat? Here is a super rundown from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Plant-based alternatives to animal-based foods are not a new phenomenon. Tofu, for example, has often been treated as an alternative to meat for centuries. In more recent decades, food companies have processed mixtures of soy and other legumes, grains, and a variety of plants into burgers, nuggets, sausages, and other meat-shaped products. These creations were often targeted towards a vegan or vegetarian demographic, and despite their appearance, were not necessarily intended to completely recreate the taste of their meat-based counterparts.
However, a new generation of plant-based meat alternatives is aiming to do just that. In a recent JAMA Viewpoint, Dr. Frank Hu, Chair of the Department of Nutrition, and co-authors including Gina McCarthy, Director of C-CHANGE at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health, discuss how popular products like Impossible Foods’ and Beyond Meat’s burger patties are aimed to appeal to a broader consumer base with their “unique mimicry” of beef in both taste and experience. They also note how these products are often marketed as a way to “help reduce reliance on industrial meat production,” aligned with recent reports calling for dietary patterns higher in plant-based foods for both human and planetary health.
Can these novel products be considered part of a healthy and sustainable diet? According to the Viewpoint authors, the answer to this question “remains far from clear given the lack of rigorously designed, independently funded studies.” We spoke with Dr. Hu to learn more about the potential benefits and concerns surrounding popular plant-based meat alternatives.
Although these alternative meats are being made from plants, you suggest caution in applying existing research findings on plant-based foods and human health. Can you talk about some of that evidence, and why it’s not readily applicable? Continue reading →
People who increased their daily servings of red meat over an eight-year period were more likely to die during the subsequent eight years compared to people who did not increase their red meat consumption, according to a new study led by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The study also found that decreasing red meat and simultaneously increasing healthy alternative food choices over time was associated with lower mortality.
The study was published online June 12, 2019 in BMJ.
A large body of evidence has shown that higher consumption of red meat, especially processed red meat, is associated with higher risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancers including those of the colon and rectum, and premature death. This is the first longitudinal study to examine how changes in red meat consumption over time may influence risk of early death. Continue reading →
In my 30’s I was a vegetarian who still ate fish and chicken. In those days I was doing tons of yoga and had no trouble keeping my weight down. I also felt great, of course, I was in my 30’s so why wouldn’t I? I thought this study from Loma Linda University was very enlightening.
A new study out of Loma Linda University Health suggests that eating red and processed meats — even in small amounts — may increase the risk of death from all causes, especially cardiovascular disease.
Saeed Mastour Alshahrani, the lead author of the study and a doctoral student at Loma Linda University School of Public Health, said the research fills an important gap left by previous studies that looked at relatively higher levels of red meat intake and compared them with low intakes. Continue reading →
For the record, I was a vegetarian for five years in my middle 30’s. At the time I did yoga daily and lived a generally active lifestyle. I weighed around 150 pounds and felt great. I stopped my vegetarianism mainly for social reasons. I felt guilty telling a hostess that I didn’t eat meat and needed different food. These days, I do eat red meat, but very sparingly. I am very conscious of the bad fats and am concerned about clogging up my arteries in my old age. As it turns out, I am eating according to the guidelines of this study from Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands.
According to new data, a diet rich in plant-based foods and low in meat — without strictly following a vegetarian or vegan diet — may offer protection against obesity in middle-aged and older adults.
Experts already know that diets that emphasize plant-based over animal-based foods — such as vegetarian or vegan diets — can decrease the risk of obesity.
However, scientists do not yet know how strictly these diets need to be followed to reduce the risk of becoming overweight or obese later in life. Continue reading →
I feel strongly that the mantra eat less; move more; live longer is worthwhile. It seems that the American Heart Association (AHA) has a particular focus on eating less meats. While not a vegetarian, I have found that nuts and seeds offer an excellent and tasty alternative protein source. (See links at end of post)
• Postmenopausal women who follow a high-protein diet could be at higher risk of heart failure, especially if most of their protein comes from meat. • Researchers combined dietary self-reports with biomarkers to determine actual dietary protein intake as self-reporting alone is often inaccurate.
Women over the age of 50 who follow a high-protein diet could be at higher risk for heart failure, especially if much of their protein comes from meat, according to preliminary research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2016. Continue reading →
I have found that over the nearly seven years of writing this blog, I am eating less and less red meat. Currently I am down to about once or twice a month. I think I feel better and lighter as a result. I have substituted plant, fish, nut and seed protein in place of red meat.
A new study from the Indiana University (IU) School of Public Health-Bloomington has bolstered the link between red meat consumption and heart disease by finding a strong association between heme iron, found only in meat, and potentially deadly coronary heart disease (CHD), the University said.
The study found that heme iron consumption increased the risk for coronary heart disease by 57 percent, while no association was found between nonheme iron, which is in plant and other non-meat sources, and coronary heart disease. Continue reading →
It doesn’t help. WebMD says, “People who eat a lot of processed meats, such as hot dogs and lunch meat, are more likely to get colon cancer. The link isn’t completely clear, but it might be because of nitrites. Those are chemicals added to food to stop bacteria and preserve color.
“Red meat also is linked to colon cancer. In general, limit the amount of red meat you eat. Instead choose other sources of protein, such as chicken, fish, or beans.”
You can take a very useful WebMD quiz at the link above that will fill you in on a number of cancers and cancer myths. Continue reading →