Meat Still Isn't Healthy, Study Confirms
After a weekend of football-shaped pigs-in-a-blanket, you probably don't want to hear that the latest study on red and processed meat found that these foods boost your risk of heart and blood vessel disease.
The study also found that meat ups your risk of premature death.
"Consume red and processed meats in moderation because even two servings or more a week are associated with an increased risk of heart disease and mortality," said study senior author Norrina Allen, director of the Institute for Public Health and Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago.
These latest findings might seem to contradict an earlier study -- published in the fall in the Annals of Internal Medicine -- that had meat fans cheering. That study reported researchers couldn't say with certainty that eating red meat or processed meat caused cancer, type 2 diabetes or heart disease.
That study was heralded by many as a green light to eat those foods with abandon. But plenty of studies that came before found links between red and processed meat and health harms. And major health organizations, such as the American Heart Association and American Cancer Society, were quick to recommend against stuffing sausages and other meats back into your diet.
In 2015, a World Health Organization evidence review concluded that processed meats are a proven cancer-causing substance and that red meat probably is, too.
The new research included six prospective studies of nearly 30,000 adults. A prospective trial is one that follows people over time and periodically collects data on their health. In this case, participants were followed for up to 30 years.
The researchers found that those who ate just two servings of processed meats a week had a 7% higher risk of heart disease and stroke. Processed meats include deli meats, hot dogs, bratwurst, sausage and bacon.
Folks who ate two or more servings of unprocessed red meat -- such as beef or pork -- had a 3% higher risk of heart disease and stroke.
Poultry also showed a link, but Allen said the finding was inconsistent and would need to be replicated in another study. There was no association with fish and a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.
Eating two or more servings a week of red meat or processed meat was associated with a 3% increased risk of dying during the study. Fish and poultry were not tied to a higher risk of dying.
The more red and processed meats people ate, the greater their risk of heart disease, stroke and premature death, Allen said.
But just how do these foods increase these risks?
Allen pointed to high amounts of saturated fat and sodium as likely culprits. Plus, she said, if you're eating a lot of meat, you're probably not getting enough fruits and vegetables.
Allen said she would "recommend eating red and processed meat in moderation. Eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains -- they have beneficial effects."
Dr. Jeffrey Mechanick is director of the Marie-Josee and Henry Kravis Center for Cardiovascular Health at Mount Sinai Heart in New York City. He wasn't part of the study, but reviewed the findings.
"This is a respected and reputable group, and this study is coming on the heels of the previous controversial paper," Mechanick said. "These results support what we've commonly believed."
But he said it's important not to fixate on just one aspect of the diet.
"There's no single food that dictates whether a lifestyle is healthy," Mechanick explained. "If you have an overall healthy eating pattern, having bacon with your eggs isn't going to mitigate your health."
Like Allen, he said the focus should be on eating more vegetables and fruits. Mechanick suggested five to 10 servings a day. He added that diet isn't the only important factor in your health: It's also important to get plenty of physical activity and work on reducing your stress levels.
The study was published Feb. 3 in JAMA Internal Medicine.
For more about red meat and health, see the Harvard Medical School.
SOURCES: Norrina Allen, Ph.D., director, Institute for Public Health and Medicine, and associated professor of preventive medicine and pediatrics, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago; Jeffrey Mechanick, M.D., medical director, Marie-Josee and Henry Kravis Center for Cardiovascular Health at Mount Sinai Heart, and director of metabolic support, Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Bone Disease at Mount Sinai, New York City; JAMA Internal Medicine, Feb. 3, 2020