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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Red meat is linked to a higher risk of death and heart disease

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By Prof Raphael Nyarkotey Obu

There are many conflicts surrounding red meat consumption. One study by Nørgaard et al.( 2017) found that many of these studies are observational and cannot predict cause and effects.  They only explore association.

Observational studies tend to have confounding variables — factors other than the ones being studied that might be influencing the outcome variable. Hence, in this article, I explore the scientific aspect of red meat.

Nutrition facts

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Red meat has many important nutrients such as protein, vitamin B12, and zinc. For instance, US Food and Administration reports that 4 ounces (oz.) or 113 grams (gm) of 80% lean ground beef provides :

·           Calories: 287

·           Protein: 19 gm

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·           Fat: 23 gm

·           Carbohydrates: 0 gm

·           Vitamin B12: 101% of the Daily Value (DV)

·           Zinc: 43% of the DV

·           Selenium: 31% of the DV

·           Niacin: 30% of the DV

·           Iron: 12% of the DV

The protein in beef is complete, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids that humans must get from food.

The National Institutes of Health studies explained that beef has a good amount of vitamin B12 — a water-soluble nutrient necessary for nervous system functioning — and zinc, a mineral that’s vital for the immune system.

Some studies (Astrup et al; 2020; Gershuni. 2018) found that red meat is high in saturated fat. Though research shows that saturated fat does not directly increase the risk of heart disease, it can increase LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, which is a risk factor for heart disease.

A recent study by Geiker et al.(2021) found that highly processed meats, like bacon and sausages, provide a higher nutritional content as compared to less processed cuts of meat.  Additionally, they contain too much salt and other preservatives.

Read meat, science

Cardiovascular disease

Some observational studies(Wang et al. 2016; Alice et al. 2021) found consumption of red meat is linked to a higher risk of death and heart disease.

Another study by Al-Shaar et al.(2020) on 43,272 males found eating a higher amount of red meat — such as both processed and unprocessed varieties is linked to a higher risk of heart disease.

Finally, the study found that eating plant-based proteins such as legumes, nuts, or soy

might help decrease heart disease instead of red meat.

Processed meat

Another large observation study by Iqbal et al.(2021) used 134,297 individuals and found that consuming at least 5.3 oz. (150 gm) of processed meat per week is linked to an increased risk of death and heart disease. An explanation for this was linked to high salt content(Grillo et al. 2019).

Unprocessed meat

Iqbal et al.(2021) found no association between unprocessed red meat consumption, even in amounts of 8.8 oz. (250 gm) or more per week in a study that involved more than 130,000 participants.

A previous study by O’Connor et al.(2017) found that eating half a serving (1.25 oz. or 35.4 gm) or more of unprocessed red meat daily does not affect heart disease.

Randomized controlled trials — considered a gold standard than observational studies support these results.

Red meat and cancer

Observational studies  found that processed and unprocessed red meat consumption is linked to an increased risk of some cancers,  such as colorectal and breast cancer  Mehta et al. 2019; Aykan NF. 2015).

The World Health Organization (WHO) cancer agency classified red meat as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” They also classified processed meat as “carcinogenic to humans,”  explaining that processed meat has been shown to cause colorectal cancer.

Farvid et al. (2018) studies also found that people who eat high amounts of processed and unprocessed meats had a 9% and 6% greater risk of developing breast cancer, than those who consumed the lowest amount.

Some studies(Turesky et al. 2018) found that using nitrites to cure meat and smoking meats can produce carcinogenic (cancer-causing) compounds. High-heat cooking, such as grilling, could also create cancer-promoting compounds.

Red meat and diabetes

One study by Ibsen et al.(2021) found that eating eggs as compared to read meat a day reduces on chances of blood sugar.

Another study by Würtz et al.(2021) found eating other proteins instead of meat has a better outlook to reduce type 2 diabetes. Though this was linked to both processed and unprocessed meat, it is more prevalent in red meat.

Finally, one study by Zhang et al.(2021) found that those who eat more amounts of processed and unprocessed red meats were 27% and 15% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, compared to those who consumed the lowest amounts.

Cooking method

The way red meat is cooked also affects how it influences your health. When meat is cooked at a high temperature, it can form harmful compounds.

 (Turesky R. 2015) the study found that heterocyclic amines (HCAs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) are some of the harmful substances.

the National Cancer Institute found that lab experiments suggest that these compounds may change DNA and promote cancer development.

The following are some recommended means to reduce the harmful substances in red meat( Shamsudin et al. 2020; Nadeem et al. 2021):

·           Use gentler cooking methods, like stewing and steaming, instead of grilling and frying.

·           Minimize cooking at high heat and don’t expose your meat directly to a flame.

·           Limit charred and smoked food. If your meat is burnt, cut away the charred pieces.

·           If you must cook at high heat, flip your meat frequently to prevent it from burning.

·           Before cooking, cook your meat in a marinade, like one made with honey and herbs. Marinating may help decrease the formation of HCAs.

Take home

Based on the studies,  some health organizations recommend red meat, including the American Diabetes Association, WHO, and American Heart Association(AHA).

Also, there is no need to do away with red meat entirely, moderation is the key thing here.


Prof. Nyarkotey has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations to justify his write-ups. My articles are for educational purposes and do not serve as Medical advice for Treatment. I aim to educate the public about evidence-based scientific Naturopathic Therapies.

The writer is a professor of naturopathic healthcare, a medical journalist, and a science writer. President, Nyarkotey University College of Holistic Medicine & Technology (NUCHMT)/African Naturopathic Foundation, Ashaiman, Ghana. E. mail: [email protected].  Visit-profnyarkotey.com for more.

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