Family Health, Nutrition and Fitness, Your Health Ben Brown | 7 years ago

Processed Red Meat and Heart Disease

Findings from a new study exploring the link between red meat consumption and heart disease may make you want to think twice before firing up your grill, or driving to the nearest fast food restaurant during lunch hour. The study, which was published in Circulation Heart Failure in early June, was led by a group of investigators at the Karolinska Institute in Stockolm, Sweden, and has significant implications for the emerging field of Cardiovascular Nutrition. An analysis of nearly 37,000 males over the course of 12 years yielded some interesting insights, and raises some questions that Dr. Alegria addresses.

What are the most important takeaways from the study?

In this landmark study that looked at the effects of processed red meat consumption, eating red meat was found to be associated with an increased risk of heart failure. For every 50 gram increase in daily consumption of processed red meat, the risk of heart failure increased by 8% and the risk of heart failure mortality by 38%

What is it about processed red meat that makes it so harmful to our health?

Processed and grilled meats are a source of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These toxic substances are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Additionally, processed red meats have higher content of sodium and nitrates that we believe are related to a higher cardiovascular risk.

What would you advise in terms of red meat consumption? Should we stay away from it altogether? Or is it okay in unprocessed form, in moderation?

First, I would advise that everyone become informed about meat in general. A good source to find references regarding meat is PubMed from the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Health, which gives a comprehensive overview of the current research related to the topic in peer review journals. I personally have not read any strong clinical data suggesting that red meat is good for cardiovascular health. We do know that higher red meat consumption has been associated with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, metabolic diseases, cancer, obesity, etc. As we move forward in terms of nutritional research and cardiovascular disease, the recommendations our grandparents always used to give us, such as “Eat your Veggies “ or the old adage ”An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away” are becoming more real and relevant for us. Lastly. I just want to mention that while moderation is key for everyone, moderation is culturally and personally defined. For some, moderation may imply eating meat once a month, while for others; this could mean consuming it once a week, or even once a day. Ultimately, I believe that moderation and knowledge should be the guiding powers concerning our daily nutritional choices.  The Mediterranean Diet, that has shown to decreased cardiovascular risk and events , is mostly based around the consumption of plants, white meats and very little amounts of red meat.     Alegria-Jorge 

Jorge R. Alegría, MD, is an adult congenital heart disease specialist with Atrium Health’s Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute.

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