Red meats, such as beef, lamb, and pork, and processed red meat products, such as sausages, bacon, and hot dogs, are common foods on the table. For many meat eaters, or even people who “can’t eat anything without meat”, these are not only sources of nutrients such as protein, but also “necessities” to satisfy their appetite.
However, a growing body of research shows that excessive consumption of red and processed red meat may be harmful to health and longevity, such as increasing the risk of cancer. Processed meat and red meat have been classified by the World Health Organization as Category 1 (confirmed to be carcinogenic to humans) and Category 2A (possibly carcinogenic to humans, with sufficient evidence from animal testing, but limited evidence of carcinogenicity to humans) carcinogens.
Red and processed red meat may also be harmful to your heart, blood vessels, and blood sugar. According to a study published in the European Heart Journal, regular consumption of processed and unprocessed red meat may increase the risk of coronary heart disease, cardiovascular diseases such as stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
Researchers from the University of Hong Kong and other institutions analyzed 70 published studies, including data from more than 6.2 million participants.
Among them, 43 studies analyzed the association between unprocessed and processed red meat and cardiovascular disease and its subtypes, including more than 4.46 million participants, 61.7% were women, and the follow-up time ranged from 2 to 30 years.
Twenty-three studies analyzed the association between unprocessed and processed red meat and type 2 diabetes or gestational diabetes, involving approximately 1.74 million participants, 63.9% of whom were women, and followed for 4.3 to 15 years.
After adjusting for confounding factors such as age, gender, lifestyle, and family history, researchers found that regular consumption of processed or unprocessed red meat was associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
Each 100 g/day increase in unprocessed red meat intake was associated with an 11%, 17%, 27%, and 101% increased risk of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes, respectively.
Each 50 g/day increase in processed red meat intake was associated with a 26%, 16%, 16%, and 44% increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, heart failure, and type 2 diabetes, respectively.
In addition, the researchers found that the impact of processed or unprocessed red meat on the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes was more significant in Western populations. This may be related to different dietary habits, with Western populations' diets characterized by higher intakes of processed meats, red meat, butter, high-fat dairy products, and refined grains, and Eastern populations' diets characterized by higher intakes of whole grains, vegetables, and Seafood intake is higher.
Researchers analyzed that the association between processed or unprocessed red meat and the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes may be related to a variety of factors, but the relevant mechanisms are not yet clear and more research is needed.
Regular consumption of red or processed red meat may increase blood pressure and LDL cholesterol levels, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease, and may increase the risk of obesity, which is also a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. ; Red meat is rich in carnitine, which will produce trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO) after being digested by certain bacteria in the intestine. TMAO can inhibit the degradation of cholesterol in the blood, so that cholesterol can only be deposited on the artery walls. Causes blood vessel walls to thicken and harden, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
In addition, red meat is rich in saturated fatty acids, which may affect metabolism, cause insulin resistance, and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes; dietary protein in red meat may also be related to higher levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which Mendelian randomization studies have shown that IGF-1 is associated with a higher risk of diabetes.
It should be noted that this study is an observational study, which only shows that regular consumption of processed or unprocessed red meat is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. It does not show cause and effect, and the study also has some limitations. Sex may also have an impact on the study results.
The study concluded that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. Type 2 diabetes is not only a common comorbidity of cardiovascular disease but also an established risk factor. Given the heavy burden of cardiovascular disease, identifying more effective interventions can help reduce incidence and mortality from cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
Dietary intervention is a key component of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes prevention applicable to daily life. Red meat is a common food in the diet. From the 1970s to 2030, the global consumption of red meat per person has nearly doubled, which has an impact on individual and global health.
The findings of this study remind us that in order to promote cardiovascular and metabolic health, people should adjust dietary patterns, improve dietary structure, and limit the intake of processed or unprocessed red meat.
According to the "Dietary Guidelines for Chinese Residents (2022)", it is recommended to eat fish, poultry, eggs and lean meat in moderation, with an average of 120-200 grams per day; it is best to eat 300-500 grams of fish, 300-350 grams of eggs, and 300-350 grams of eggs per week. 300-500 grams of poultry; eat less highly processed meat products; give priority to fish and eat less fatty, smoked and cured meat products.
In addition, when cooking meat, use more steaming methods and less grilling and frying. When meat is grilled or fried, the temperature is high, which will destroy the nutrients, such as continuous long-term high-temperature frying, repeated use of oil, open flame barbecue, etc., and it is also easy to produce some carcinogenic compounds to contaminate the food.
When dining out, you should reduce your meat intake. When ordering, you should mix meat and vegetables, keep it light, and try to use fish and soy products instead of livestock and poultry meat.