Judicious Consumption of Red Meats Is Safest for Heart Health

A research study released last fall has been challenged by a large and carefully analyzed new study linking red and processed meat consumption with a slightly higher risk of heart disease and death, according to the new study from Northwestern Medicine and Cornell University. The new research findings have been recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The study found that consumption of two servings of red meat, processed meat or poultry—but not fish—per week was linked to a 3% to 7% higher risk of cardiovascular disease. “It’s a small difference, but it’s worth trying to reduce red meat and processed meat like pepperoni, bologna and deli meats,” said senior study author Norrina Allen, PhD, MPH, an associate professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. “Red meat consumption also is consistently linked to other health problems like cancer.”

“Modifying intake of these animal protein foods may be an important strategy to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death at a population level,” said lead study author Victor Zhong, PhD, an assistant professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.

The new findings emerge only months after a controversial meta-analysis that suggested there was no need for people to reduce the amount of red and processed meats they consume. “Everyone interpreted that it was OK to eat red meat, but I don’t think that is what the science supports,” Allen said. Zhong noted the importance of the later finds, suggesting, “Our study shows the link to cardiovascular disease and mortality was robust.”

Linda Van Horn, PhD, RD, a study coauthor and professor of preventive medicine at Feinberg, and who also is a member of the 2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory committee, said, “Fish, seafood and plant-based sources of protein such as nuts and legumes, including beans and peas, are excellent alternatives to meat and are under-consumed in the U.S.”

The study pooled together a large diverse sample from six cohorts, including follow-up data from as many as three decades. It included 29,682 participants with a mean age of 53.7 years at baseline. Diet data were self-reported by participants, who were questioned about what they ate for the previous year or month. The study found a positive association between poultry intake and cardiovascular disease but the evidence to date is insufficient to develop a clear recommendation about poultry intake, according to Zhong.

From the recently published study, it can be inferred that limiting consumption of red and processed meats can be helpful in protecting against cardiovascular disease. For related dietary questions, your provider can provide suggestions on healthful ways to modify your diet.

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