Nutritionists hardly need more evidence about the potentially negative health effects of eating red meat. For starters, the saturated animal fat in red meat contributes to heart disease and atherosclerosis. Recent research also shows that frequent red meat eaters face twice the risk of colon cancer as those who indulge less often. Red meat is also thought to increase the risks of rheumatoid arthritis and endometriosis.
Meanwhile, according to the American Dietetic Association, vegetarian diets can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease, colon cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, kidney disease, hypertension, obesity, and other debilitating medical conditions. While red meat is a key source of protein and vitamin B12 in North American diets, nutritionists explain that properly planned meat-free diets easily provide these important nutrients while keeping you healthier in the long run.
New research from the Harvard School of Public Health suggests even moderate consumption of red meat as little as one serving a day poses a more serious health risk than first thought.
Investigators followed more than 37,000 men from the Harvard Health Professionals Follow-Up Study and more than 83,000 women from the Harvard Nurses Health Study for up to nearly three decades. Participants filled in detailed questionnaires about their diet and lifestyle every four years.
A total of 23,926 deaths were found during the study period, including 5,910 from cardiovascular disease and 9,464 from cancer. The results were reported by Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard, and his co-authors in this week issue of the the Archives of Internal Medicine.
None of the participants had cardiovascular disease or cancer when the study began.
This study provides clear evidence that regular consumption of red meat, especially processed meat, contributes substantially to premature death.
Some red meats are high in saturated fat, which raises blood cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol increase the risk of heart disease.
When it comes to cancer, the answer is not so clear. Many researchers say it does raise the risk, especially for colorectal cancer.
A recent National Institutes of Health-AARP study of more than a half-million older Americans concluded that people who ate the most red meat and processed meat over a 10-year-period were likely to die sooner than those who ate smaller amounts. Those who ate about 4 ounces of red meat a day were more likely to die of cancer or heart disease than those who ate the least, about a half-ounce a day. Epidemiologists classified the increased risk as modest in the study.
The meat industry contends there is no link between red meat, processed meats, and cancer, and says that lean red meat fits into a heart-healthy diet. A meat industry spokeswoman criticized the design of the NIH-AARP study, saying that studies that rely on participants to recall what foods they eat cannot prove cause and effect.
I recommend eating meat in moderation and select grass fed organic meat.