Red meat – friend or foe?

For a long time we have demonized red meat as the bringer of ills and cause of all manner of circulatory problems. However, can we still take this standpoint in the light of some ground-breaking research?

On the surface of it, red meat does look to be an issue when we consider heart health as an endpoint. Eating just 50g of processed meat per day (similar portion size as a hot-dog sausage) has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease by a massive 42% and increase your risk of diabetes, a commonly associated complication to heart disease, by 19%. The problem with making recommendations regarding meat intake comes from the fact that until now, processed red meat and unprocessed red meat have all been lumped together under one heading in studies. When we look deeper into the similarities and differences between the processed and unprocessed meats we find similar cholesterol levels but processed meats had up to 50% or more preservatives such as nitrates as unprocessed meat. Such a high preservative content looks to be responsible for the adverse health effects associated with processed meat products. A paper published this May in the journal Circulation is the first of its kind to actually separate processed from unprocessed meat consumption; the results are fascinating. The consumption of unprocessed meat was not associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease!

Naturally, such breaking is not indented to prompt or stimulate a surge in unprocessed red meat consumption but should reflect the importance of a food, that’s any foods, natural state. The study clearly identifies the addition of unnatural chemicals as a trigger for the food to behave differently once inside the human body. It’s important to keep in mind that along with the added nitrates already mentioned, processed meats also contain added sodium (salt) and even extra fat. We already know that excessive dietary salt elevates blood pressure and that the addition of chemicals such as nitrates promotes atherosclerosis (fatty hardening of the blood vessels) and insulin resistance (one of the causes of type-II diabetes) so it should not be such a surprise that processes meats trigger illness!

What the study underpins is that even a little red meat will probably do you no real harm if taken in it’s natural state and as part of a diet rich in variety and freshness and based in fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds.


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