The Red Meat Debate Continues – Is it OK to eat or not?

The Red Meat Debate Continues

December 5, 2019

A recent study from the Annals of Internal Medicine suggested that there was not enough evidence to tell people to cut back on red meat or processed meat,¹ which as expected, garnered a lot of media attention. This contradicts long-standing recommendations from multiple nutrition guidelines to reduce red meat intake – meatless Mondays anyone? Minneapolis Heart Institute® preventive cardiologist and Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation® (MHIF) researcher Dr. Michael Miedema weighed in on the latest evidence. 

“The authors of this study determined that there does appear to be an increased risk of cardiovascular disease with increased intake of red meat, but they said that the overall quality of the data was too weak to formally recommend that individuals should cut back on red meat,” said Dr. Miedema. “That is a conclusion that many nutritional experts would disagree with.”

The Facts

  • Another study released in 2019 evaluated the association between red meat and mortality over eight years. It concluded that increased red meat consumption, especially processed meats, was associated with higher overall death rates in women and men.2
  • An earlier systematic review and meta-analysis looked at red and processed meat consumption and the incidence of coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes. It found that processed meat intake was associated with higher incidence of these diseases, but not red meat.3 
  • In a comprehensive review on dietary priorities for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity, world-renowned researcher Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian concluded that it is reasonable to consume one to two servings of red meat a week to obtain important nutrients (iron, zinc, etc.) while avoiding processed meats as much as possible.4
How can you choose healthier proteins?

According to the 2015 and 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans,5 the average intake of total protein is close to the recommended level for most people in the US, while some individuals (especially teen boys and adult men) eat more than the recommended amount. However, nationally, many people fall short of the recommended intake of fish/seafood twice a week.

  • Aim to eat more fish/seafood in place of meat, poultry (especially processed options) and eggs. Fish is packed with many nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids, which are healthy fats that are crucial for optimal heart and brain function.
  • Legumes, nuts and seeds are also good replacement choices to increase the variety of protein foods you eat.

How can you make healthier food choices in general?

Overall, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans promote a shift to healthy eating patterns tailored to an individual’s cultural background, personal preferences, health history and socioeconomics. These shifts include eating:

  • More whole foods rather than processed foods
  • More vegetables, fruit, whole grains, fish, nuts, seeds, legumes
  • Fewer processed meats, refined grains, added sugars, salt and unhealthy fats.

Adopting healthy eating patterns along with eating all foods in moderation remains sound advice.

Follow the American Heart Association tips for picking healthy proteins here.

     References:

    1. Johnston, B. C., Zeraatkar, D., Han, M. A., Vernooij, R. W., Valli, C., El Dib, R., … & Bhatia, F. (2019). Unprocessed Red Meat and Processed Meat Consumption: Dietary Guideline Recommendations From the Nutritional Recommendations (NutriRECS) Consortium. Annals of Internal Medicine. https://annals.org/aim/fullarticle/2752328/unprocessed-red-meat-processed-meat-consumption-dietary-guideline-recommendations-from
    2. Zheng, Y., Li, Y., Satija, A., Pan, A., Sotos-Prieto, M., Rimm, E., … & Hu, F. B. (2019). Association of changes in red meat consumption with total and cause specific mortality among US women and men: two prospective cohort studies. bmj, 365, l2110. https://www.bmj.com/content/bmj/365/bmj.l2110.full.pdf
    3. Renata Micha, R. D., Wallace, S. K., & Mozaffarian, D. (2010). Red and processed meat consumption and risk of incident coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes mellitus. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/f7a3/e13b49b1759a652d9f0c6e0539b4872b85ad.pdf
    4. Mozaffarian, D. (2016). Dietary and policy priorities for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity: a comprehensive review. Circulation, 133(2), 187-225.
    5. S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/.
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