Monday, March 23, 2009

Health Benefits of Reducing Red Meat Consumption

According to a new research report, there are two types of meat consumption that are getting us into health-related trouble: red meat and processed meat. Those who eat more of these appear to have a modestly increased risk of death from all causes and also from cancer or heart disease over a 10-year period.

This new report has been published in the March 23 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals. In contrast, a higher intake of white meat appeared to be associated with a slightly decreased risk for overall death and cancer death.

In what is a very large piece of biostatistics, Dr. Rashmi Sinha and colleagues at the National Cancer Institute, Rockville, Md., assessed the association between meat intake and risk of death among more than 500,000 individuals. All of them were part of the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study, which is ongoing. Participants were between 50 and 71 years old when the study began in 1995 and they provided demographic and food frequency information to estimate their intake of white, red and processed meats. They were then followed for 10 years.

Over the followup years, 47,976 men and 23,276 women died. Those men and women who ate the most red meat had a higher risk for overall death, as well as death from heart disease or death from cancer than the men and women who ate the least red meat.

The results for "white meat" were completely different; comparing the one-fifth of participants who ate the most white meat to the one-fifth who ate the least white meat, those with high white meat intake had a lower risk of death.

“For overall mortality, 11 percent of deaths in men and 16 percent of deaths in women could be prevented if people decreased their red meat consumption," the authors wrote. The impact on cardiovascular disease mortality was an 11 percent decrease in men and a 21 percent decrease in women if the red meat consumption was decreased to the amount consumed by individuals in the first quintile. “For women eating processed meat at the first quintile level, the decrease in cardiovascular disease mortality was approximately 20 percent.”

There are several mechanisms by which meat may be associated with death, the authors note. Cancer-causing compounds are formed during high-temperature cooking of meat. Meat also is a major source of saturated fat, which has been associated with breast and colorectal cancer. In addition, lower meat intake has been linked to a reduction in risk factors for heart disease, including lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Because there are health benefits to eating some red and white (although not processed) meats, the consensus is not for a complete shift to vegan or vegetarian diets, according to Dr. Barry Popkin (UNC Chapel Hill) who added in an editorial that, “The need is for a major reduction in total meat intake, an even larger reduction in processed meat and other highly processed and salted animal source food products and a reduction in total saturated fat."

For the time being, the PDF (while available) of the original research article (quite a comprehensive piece) is linked to the headline of today's blog post. It may answer more of your questions.


1 comment:

Tami said...

Great post Dave, and thanks for providing the PDF. Dr. Popkin's call for an overall reduction of meat consumption may seem like a daunting task to many, but even a small change in the American diet can have tremendous positive results. Removing meat from your diet just once a week reduces saturated fat intake by 15%, which, according to research done at John Hopkins, reduces your risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and various cancers.
It's easy to remember to cut back on meat if you have a set day each week. I work on a non-profit campaign called Meatless Monday which encourages Americans to make healthy, meat-free choices on Monday. It's easy to have a meatless day each week, check out for more information.