I’m a meat eater, let me just get that out of the way. I used to be a vegetarian, and I was for many years, but I don’t think I will ever go back. I think the paleo diet is a good thing. The growing body of research seems to find both high protein and high meat diets to be good for health and, most people agree, good for athleticism, as well.
I wrote an article recently that cast some doubt on the healthiness of red meat in particular. Lately the grip of dogma against saturated fats has been loosening. It seems they aren’t so bad after all, and in that article I discussed a study that went after L-carnitine instead as the dooming nutrient in meat. I said at the end I was going to keep an open mind until more evidence comes to light, and here it is.
In recent meta-analyses performed by BMC Medicine, researchers have cast doubt on any meat detractors out there. Specifically, investigators analyzed the results of a disease study performed on nearly half a million participants across ten European countries that included an average of over a decade of follow up. In other words, this was a massive study. The researchers focused on cardiovascular disease, the second biggest cause of death in this study (after cancer) and the one that researchers have long tried to link to meat consumption.
Here’s what the researchers found. Unprocessed red meats had no significant link to cardiovascular disease. Unprocessed poultry had a non-significant trend towards a reduction in cardiovascular disease. Carnitine consumption be damned, meat is good for you. The researchers say as much, stating that unprocessed red meat, which boasts the highest carnitine levels, had little association with cardiovascular disease at all, and no significant risk.
On the other hand, processed meats significantly increased the risk of cardiovascular disease. When compared gram for gram to red meat, the same serving size of processed meats showed a 70% greater risk for cardiovascular disease. When translated into weekly servings, for every serving added of unprocessed red meat, there was no significant change to risk, but for every serving added of processed meats there was an 8% higher risk. That’s right, for every deli sandwich you get each week, watch out.
In fact, the researchers said it best. Of the many sandwiches promoted as healthy, which include low fat cheeses, low fat deli meats, and refined grains, the authors of the analysis stated, “few meals could be worse for health.”
The authors advised avoiding processed meats high in salt, preservatives, and refined grains and sugars as the primary culprits affecting our health negatively. They also expressed a need for the scientific and food production communities to move away from a focus on low fat.
So there you have it – ditch the deli meats and opt for unprocessed meats that are great for health and athleticism. And as a final thought in case you were curious (I was), although the authors weren’t focused on the other causes of death in the study specifically, they did note that red meat consumption had no association with cancer, or deaths due to digestive, respiratory, or any other issues. It’s time to put the red meat issue to rest.
1. Renata Micha, et. al., “Processing of meats and cardiovascular risk: time to focus on preservatives,” BMC Medicine 2013, 11:136
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