Red meat poses health risks.
The research published by The BMJ today shows that replacing red meat with high-quality plant foods such as beans, nuts, or soy can be linked with a modestly reduced risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).
Replacing red meat (total) with whole grains and dairy products and processed red meat with eggs might also lessen this risk.
Evidence associates heart disease with high consumption of red meat.
Ample evidence hints that high consumption of red meat, mainly processed red meat, such as bacon, hot dogs, sausages, and salami, is connected with an enhanced risk of death and major chronic diseases, including coronary heart disease.
Studies that confer inconsistent results usually fail to compare red meat with similar protein and energy sources.
Addressing these problems in study design and analysis, a team of US researchers studied the correlation between processed, unprocessed, and total red meat and CHD risk. After this, they predicted the effects of replacing other protein sources for red meat containing CHD risk.
The researchers included 43,272 US men (average age 53) from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study who were not suffering from cardiovascular disease and cancer when they enrolled.
How was the study done?
For the study, the participants filled in a detailed diet questionnaire starting in 1986 with a gap of four years until 2016. These participants provided information about their medical history and lifestyle.
The researchers used medical records to track CHD events (fatal and non-fatal) over these 30 years. During this time, they documented 4,456 CHD events, of which 1,860 were fatal.
After considering other cardiovascular disease risk factors, the researchers associated red meat (total) with a modest (12%) higher risk of CHD for each one serving per day. The same connections were seen for unprocessed (11% higher risk) and processed red meat (15% higher risk).
However, compared with red meat, a 14% lower risk of CHD is associated with consuming one serving per day of combined plant protein sources, consisting of nuts, legumes (such as peas, beans, lentils), and soy.
This risk was still lower (around 18%) among men over the age of 65, and when compared with processed red meat (17%).
Replacing red meat (total) with whole grains and dairy products (such as milk, cheese, and yogurt) and processed red meat with eggs is associated with lower CHD risk. This association was influential among younger men, in whom the study associated a 20% lower risk of CHD on replacing red meat with egg.
Fish and red meat
Substituting red meat with total fish was not linked with CHD risk. However, according to the researchers, this could be due to the cooking method (i.e., deep frying) and because this food group also incorporated processed fish products.
It is an observational study, so it can’t establish the cause. Despite adjusting for significant personal and lifestyle factors, the researchers can’t rule out the likelihood that other unmeasured factors might have affected their results.
Moreover, study participants were mainly white health professionals, so the findings may not be more relevant.
Nonetheless, this was a large study with repeated diet measures during 30 years of follow-up, implying that the findings withstand scrutiny.
Beneficial for the environment
As such, in their study, the researchers showed that greater intakes of total, unprocessed, and processed red meat associates itself with a higher risk of CHD, independent of other dietary and non-dietary cardiovascular disease risk factors.
Replacing red meat (total) with whole grains or dairy products and substituting processed red meat with eggs was also connected with a lower CHD risk, they add.
“These findings are compatible with the effects of these foods on low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels and encourage a health benefit of limiting red meat consumption and replacement with plant protein sources,” they describe.
According to them, this would also be environmentally beneficial.