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Does Eating Red Meat Really Lead to Heart Disease?

August 18, 2010

A study released yesterday suggested that two servings of red meat per day increased women’s heart disease risk by 30%, as compared to those who eat half a serving per day.

The study looked at 84k women over 26 years, which is a pretty solid population. Although only women were studied, the findings likely apply to men as well.

Some considerations:

Red meat vs processed meat: The study did not distinguish between processed and unprocessed red meat. Though there are many who believe that processed meat (lunchmeat, hotdogs, etc) is the true culprit in increased disease risk, no definitive findings exist. Your best bet is to have a serving per day or less of unprocessed red meat and avoid processed meat as often as possible.

Make substitutions: Replacing a serving of red meat with a daily serving of nuts reduced risk by 30%, daily fish reduced risk by 24%, poultry reduced risk 19% and low-fat dairy daily was found to correlate with a 15%. Don’t forget tofu and legumes as healthy substitutes for meat-based meals.

Serving sizes: It’s important to keep an eye on how much you are actually eating. Even if you are eating red meat at one meal, you could easily be putting down two servings or more. A serving size of meat is 3 ounces. This is about the size of a deck of cards.

Saturated fat: The fat content of red meat – and food in general – was again found to relate strongly to heart disease risk. Full fat dairy was found to increase heart disease risk, and high fat red meats showed a much higher risk than lean beef. While a daily serving of beef increased risk by 8%, hamburgers, bacon and hotdogs eaten daily increased risk by 42%, 41% and 35% respectively. This reinforces the advice to keep processed red meat intake to a minimum. Whether the underlying reason is sat fat levels or something else, studies continue to show a strong correlation to health risks.

A hamburger or turkey sandwich a couple of times per month is not going to kill you, but lean, unprocessed choices should comprise the majority of your protein intake.

What substitutions have you found for red meat in your diet? Do you watch saturated fat levels in foods other than meat?

photo: fotoos van robin

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. August 18, 2010 7:37 pm

    I don’t eat any meat at all. Too icky. And I never really liked red meat back when I did eat meat. And all that saturated fat just sitting in my arteries, bleccch. Dead cow wallpaper. Okay, that’s my opinion. My son loves the stuff. But he’s 16 and weighs about 125, evil spawn child with a great heart.

  2. August 18, 2010 7:50 pm

    It’s interesting that you put it that way because I have the same visualization of my arteries. I really don’t see a nutritional problem with red meat as long as it’s part of a varied diet, but I think the evidence will continue to mount against processed meat until it goes the way of the trans fats. Just my personal prognostication 🙂

    • August 19, 2010 12:36 pm

      @Alexandra – case in point – the American Heart Association found that “Consumption of processed meats, but not red meats, is associated with higher incidence of CHD and diabetes mellitus.”

  3. August 18, 2010 8:33 pm

    I don’t eat a lot of meat, and never red meat, but I don’t know how to get the protein (and iron) back into my diet. I know legumes are the way to go, but I’ve never really eaten beans and I can’t help but think of yucky refried beans or maple-laden baked beans, both of which I find repulsive.
    Are beans the way to go? Are there good alternatives other than legumes? I’ve started to enjoy black beans when they’re in other dishes, but I definitely feel overwhelmed trying to work with them myself (dried, canned, in a bag? too many varieties!!)

  4. August 19, 2010 8:57 am

    I started writing you an answer, but it got out of hand… so look for a new post to answer your question.

  5. August 20, 2010 8:03 am

    I am shocked to read that there is people who even eat that much meat on a daily basis, sounds like way too much. Can our bodies even digest that much meat in the course of a day. Good read, thanks for the information.

    • August 20, 2010 2:28 pm

      It is quite a bit, but I think it’s fairly normal in the American diet. Two servings of red meat would be a 6 ounce steak (which is probably typical for restaurants) or 1.5 quarter pound hamburger patties.

      As far as how much you can digest, it’s likely a matter of being used to it. If you eat red meat on a regular basis, you should be fine. If you make any sudden change in diet (meat to veg, veg to meat), you’re probably in for some gastrointestinal distress.

      Our bodies will use protein for fuel if that’s what is available and any extra goes right into fat storage. There are potential side effects from protein toxicity (eating way too much) but two servings of red meat for an adult should be safe… in the short-term.

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