Until the early 2010s, red meat was perceived as being unhealthy and not heart-smart. To this day, doctors are still recommending a reduction of red meat in order to prevent cardiovascular disease. What’s odd is that the scientific evidence disagrees with this recommendation.
Make no mistake: red meat can increase the risk of health problems like gout, and it can play a role in the formation of certain types of cancers. According to some research, a reduction in red meat consumption can lower mortality risk.
However, as a team of nutritional researchers discovered in 2016, the consumption of red meat has no effect on the risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease. Better yet, consuming more than the healthy recommendation still won’t lead to a higher risk of heart problems.
The researchers examined data from 24 studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The data indicated that consuming more than three servings of meat per week (three ounces per serving) had no effect on blood pressure, LDL cholesterol levels, and triglyceride concentrations. There were no negative effects on HDL cholesterol as well.
There is a caveat: a good deal of the data came from shorter studies, some lasting only a few weeks or months. Cardiovascular disease develops over the course of years or decades, so further research is needed to determine if long-term red meat consumption is dangerous.
For now, however, you can enjoy your red meat without worrying about heart disease. Red meat is a very nutrient-rich food, with large quantities of iron, vitamin B12, and proteins. Both beef and pork were included in this study, meaning both of these meats can be eaten safely without worrying about your heart health.
Note: The study specified unprocessed red meat. Processed meat products are still a health risk.
Of course, that doesn’t mean red meat is totally off the hook. Overconsumption of beef and pork is still linked to low-grade chronic inflammation, increased risk of certain cancer types, and poor glucose regulation. However, you don’t have to worry about your heart.
If you want to add more red meat to your diet, go for it. Just make sure to balance your red meat intake with plenty of whole grains, fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats. You don’t have to limit saturated fat, but you should still avoid overdoing it on the calories. Excess calories are still turned into fat and cholesterol, so overeating is still one of the primary contributors to heart disease.
1. Lauren E O’Connor, Jung Eun Kim, and Wayne W Campbell, “Total red meat intake of ≥0.5 servings/d does not negatively influence cardiovascular disease risk factors: a systemically searched meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, doi: 10.3945/ ajcn.116.142521, published 23 November 2016.