Red Meat Healthy? Latest Science and Research

healthy living Nov 18, 2022
red meat healthy

Is Red Meat Healthy or Good for Your Cardiovascular Health: A Review of the Evidence and A Secret Glimmer of Hope

With the popularity of the Carnivore Diet, many of my patients and attendees at medical conferences have questions regarding red meat and it's health benefits. Previously, we have seen similar fad diets like the Atkin's Diet in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and more recently the Keto Diet.

Historically, red meat has always increased total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) due to the excessive amounts of saturated fat in red meat. 

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Red meat, which includes beef, pork, goat, bison, venison, and lamb, has long been a staple of many diets around the world. Research suggests that consuming red meat may be harmful to cardiovascular health.

There are absolutely no studies that show that consuming red meat reduces total cholesterol or LDL cholesterol. Not one.

 

Research and Studies on Red Meat and Cardiovascular Heart Disease

Let's take a look at the research on red meat and explore if red meat may be bad for your cardiovascular health.

  1. Red meat may increase the risk of heart disease. A number of studies have found an association between red meat consumption and an increased risk of heart disease. A meta-analysis published in the journal Circulation (https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.111.039273) found that higher red meat consumption was associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. The meta-analysis included data from 20 studies and found that each additional serving of red meat per day was associated with a 12% increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

  2. Red meat may also increase the risk of stroke. Several studies have found an association between red meat consumption and an increased risk of stroke. A meta-analysis published in the journal Stroke (https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1161/STROKEAHA.111.620936) found that higher red meat consumption was associated with a higher risk of stroke. The meta-analysis included data from 17 studies and found that each additional serving of red meat per day was associated with a 10% increased risk of stroke.

  3. Red meat may contribute to high blood pressure. Research has shown that red meat consumption may be linked to high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. A systematic review and meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Hypertension (https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.117.10156) found that higher red meat consumption was associated with a higher risk of high blood pressure. The review included data from 14 studies and found that each additional serving of red meat per day was associated with a 3.5 mm Hg increase in systolic blood pressure.

  4. Red meat may be high in unhealthy saturated fat. Red meat is high in saturated fat, which increases LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and contributes to heart disease. In addition, processed meats have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases.

  5. Read some of my other posts and watch my videos on YouTub on this topic and many others.

 

Secret Glimmer of Hope in Research

With that all being said, when the data in the UK Biobank was analyzed in March of 2021 in an article titled, Meat consumption and risk of 25 common conditions (other than cancer): outcome-wide analyses in 475,000 men and women in the UK Biobank study, they found that correcting for BMI actually reduced cardiovascular risk for most of the conditions. This meant that leaner individuals could get away with eating a bit more red meat than overweight or obese individuals. They concluded...

Conclusions: Higher unprocessed red meat, processed meat, and poultry meat consumption was associated with higher risks of several common conditions; higher BMI accounted for a substantial proportion of these increased risks suggesting that residual confounding or mediation by adiposity might account for some of these remaining associations. Higher unprocessed red meat and poultry meat consumption was associated with lower iron deficiency anemia risk. [emphasis added]

This means that if you had a higher BMI, you were at higher risk for most of these disease than your leaner counterparts.

As you notice above, heart disease was skewed more to the right, meaning the hazard ratios were higher and that more processed red meat intake worsened those outcomes significantly.

They also looked at BMI as a confounder and concluded:

"In this large, prospective cohort of nearly 0.5 million UK adults, we observed that after allowing for multiple testing, higher consumption of unprocessed red and processed meat combined was associated with higher risks of IHD, pneumonia, diverticular disease, colon polyps, and diabetes, and higher consumption of poultry meat was associated with higher risks of GERD, gastritis and duodenitis, diverticular disease, gallbladder disease, and diabetes. Differences in BMI across the categories of meat consumption appear to account for a substantial part of the increased risks, suggesting that residual confounding by adiposity may still operate. We also observed inverse associations between higher intakes of unprocessed red meat and poultry meat and IDA, which were minimally affected by adjustment for BMI."

You can read the abstract at:

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33648505/ 

It's actually a free article that can be read in it's entirety at:

https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-021-01922-9 

 

What About Research On Keto Style Diets?

A more recent, late-breaking study was presented at the American College of Cardiology Conference in New Orleans in March of 2023. This study was of the UK Biobank database and showed an almost 2.2 times increase in cardiovascular risk for people on a Ketogenic diet. They called it "keto-like" diet. These people ate less that 25% of total calories from carbs, and over 45% of calories from fat. That's how they defined Keto in this study

Conclusions from the publication:

Compared with participants on a standard diet, those on an LCHF diet had significantly higher levels of both LDL cholesterol and apolipoprotein B (apoB), the protein component that sits on LDL and other atherogenic lipoprotein particles. Previous studies have shown that elevated apoB may be a better predictor than elevated LDL cholesterol for risk of cardiovascular disease, Iatan said. After an average of 11.8 years of follow-up—and after adjustment for other risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and smoking—people on an LCHF diet had more than two-times higher risk of having several major cardiovascular events, such as blockages in the arteries that needed to be opened with stenting procedures, heart attack, stroke and peripheral arterial disease. In all, 9.8% of participants on an LCHF diet experienced a new cardiac event, compared with 4.3% of those on a standard diet, a doubling of risk for those on an LCHF diet.

The hazard ration was 2.18, meaning you were 2.18 times more likely to have a cardiac event on keto than not.

https://www.acc.org/About-ACC/Press-Releases/2023/03/05/15/07/Keto-Like-Diet-May-Be-Linked-to-Higher-Risk 

 

See the post on Carnivore Diet research and studies for more on that topic

 

Red Meat and Heart Disease?

When looking at the totality of evidence, it suggests that red meat (especially processed red meat) consumption can be harmful (and even causative) of cardiovascular disease. Consuming high amounts of red meat increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, peripheral artery disease, chronic kidney disease, and high blood pressure.

It's important to note that moderation is key, and it's okay to enjoy red meat as part of a balanced diet. However, it may be beneficial to limit red meat consumption and choose leaner cuts, and to consider incorporating other protein sources, such as poultry, fish, beans, whey, and nuts, into your diet. Especially, if you already have cardiometabolic disease.

We can also conclude that if you are leaner and not obese, you can eat a bit more red meat than previously thought. Although, it's just one study, more data will be needed.

Be sure to consult with your doctor or cardiologist to determine the best approach for you.

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