Red meat – How much is too much?

In recent years we have been hearing a lot about the need to reduce our consumption of red meat and to avoid eating processed meats. Why is this so?

First of all, it is important to define red meat and processed meats.

1. Red meat refers to beef, pork, lamb and goat from domesticated animals, including the minced format of these.

2. Processed meat refers to meat preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or addition of chemical preservatives. This includes meats such as ham, bacon, luncheon meat, corned beef, salami, hot dogs and some other sausages.

The health issues around meat consumption are varied:

It is well known that most red meats, processed or unprocessed, are a source of cholesterol and saturated fats. It is also well known that most processed meats are high in sodium. A regular high fat, or high cholesterol, or high sodium intake increases the risk for heart disease due to facilitating obesity, narrowing the arteries and promoting high blood pressure among others. And in many developed countries, intake of red and processed meats is high.

Currently, there is also strong evidence that red and processed meats increase the risk for colorectal (bowel) cancer.  This is because:

  • They contain a red-coloured compound called haem, which has been shown to damage the lining of the colon.
  • They stimulate production of N-nitroso compounds in the digestive system. These are cancer-causing substances due to their potential to damage DNA in cells.

An interesting research study published this May offered the first systematic review and meta-analysis of the worldwide evidence for how eating unprocessed red meat vs. processed red meat relates to risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.

The results showed that, on average, each 50 gram daily serving of processed meat (about 1-2 slices of cold cuts meats or 1 hot dog) was associated with a 42% higher risk of developing heart disease and a 19% higher risk of developing diabetes. In contrast, eating unprocessed red meat was not associated with risk of developing heart disease or diabetes.

One thing the researches uncovered was that unprocessed red and processed red meats (available in the United States) contained similar average amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol. Yet, processed meats contained, on average, 4 times more sodium and 50% more nitrate preservatives. The researchers, therefore, concluded that possibly “differences in salt and preservatives, rather than fats, might explain the higher risk of heart disease and diabetes seen with processed meats, but not with unprocessed red meats.”

Of note is that animal experiments have shown that nitrate preservatives can promote artery narrowing and reduce glucose tolerance. These two effects increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

So how much is too much?

Current recommendations by various health organizations are as follows:

  • If red meat is part of your diet, consume no more than 500g cooked weight (700-750g uncooked weight) per week, including both processed and unprocessed meats.
  • Avoid processed meats as much as possible.

The bottom line: Opt for fish, lean poultry and rabbit if you want to consume meat, and find alternative non-meat fillings for your daily sandwiches (e.g. low fat cheese, or home-made  bean, chick pea or lentil pastes). If you still want to include processed cold cuts of meat in your diet, choose those which are low in fat and pale pink in colour. The latter often have a lower nitrate content (nitrate is used to preserve the natural red / pink colour of meat during processing).

For more information visit

http://www.wcrf-uk.org/preventing_cancer/diet/meat_on_the_menu.php

Renata Micha, Sarah K. Wallace, Dariush Mozaffarian. Red and Processed Meat Consumption and Risk of Incident Coronary Heart Disease, Stroke, and Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Circulation, 2010; DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.109.924977

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3 Responses to “Red meat – How much is too much?”

  1. Mariella Farrugia Says:

    Fascinating information – Maltese people need to be reminded more frequently about these facts …especially so, during the barbeque galore of our summer months. I think Maltese families still consume too much red meat.

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  3. Advanced Garcinia Cambogia Says:

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