New Study Makes Clear: Meat Isn’t Good for You

Meat Is Unhealthy

A large, carefully analyzed new study links red and processed meat consumption with slightly higher risk of heart disease and death.

Eating Red Meat and Processed Meat Hikes Heart Disease, Death Risk

  • Eating red meat, processed meat or poultry raises risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Eating meat — but not poultry — raises risk of dying from all causes
  • New findings contradict a recent controversial study saying people don’t need to reduce their consumption of red meat and processed meat

Drop the steak knife. After a controversial study last fall recommending that it was not necessary for people to change their diet in terms of red meat and processed meat, a large, carefully analyzed new study links red and processed meat consumption with slightly higher risk of heart disease and death, according to a new study from Northwestern Medicine and Cornell University.

Eating two servings of red meat, processed meat or poultry — but not fish — per week was linked to a 3 to 7% higher risk of cardiovascular disease, the study found. Eating two servings of red meat or processed meat — but not poultry or fish — per week was associated with a 3% higher risk of all causes of death.

“It’s a small difference, but it’s worth trying to reduce red meat and processed meat like pepperoni, bologna and deli meats,” said senior study author Norrina Allen, associate professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Red meat consumption also is consistently linked to other health problems like cancer.”

“Modifying intake of these animal protein foods may be an important strategy to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death at a population level,” said lead study author Victor Zhong, assistant professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell, who did the research when he was a postdoctoral fellow in Allen’s lab.

The paper will be published today (February 3, 2020) in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The new findings come on the heels of a controversial meta-analysis published last November that recommended people not reduce the amount of red meat and processed meat they eat. “Everyone interpreted that it was OK to eat red meat, but I don’t think that is what the science supports,” Allen said.

“Our study shows the link to cardiovascular disease and mortality was robust,” Zhong said.

What should we eat?

“Fish, seafood and plant-based sources of protein such as nuts and legumes, including beans and peas, are excellent alternatives to meat and are under-consumed in the U.S.,” said study coauthor Linda Van Horn, professor of preventive medicine at Feinberg who also is a member of the 2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory committee.

The study found a positive association between poultry intake and cardiovascular disease, but the evidence so far isn’t sufficient to make a clear recommendation about poultry intake, Zhong said. Still, fried chicken is not recommended.

The new study pooled together a large diverse sample from six cohorts, included long follow-up data up to three decades, harmonized diet data to reduce heterogeneity, adjusted a comprehensive set of confounders and conducted multiple sensitivity analyses. The study included 29,682 participants (mean age of 53.7 years at baseline, 44.4% men and 30.7% non-white). Diet data were self-reported by participants, who were asked a long list of what they ate for the previous year or month.

Key findings:

  • A 3 to 7% higher risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death for people who ate red meat and processed meat two servings a week.
  • A 4% higher risk of cardiovascular disease for people who ate two servings per week of poultry, but the evidence so far is not sufficient to make a clear recommendation about poultry intake. And the relationship may be related to the method of cooking the chicken and consumption of the skin rather than the chicken meat itself.
  • No association between eating fish and cardiovascular disease or mortality.

Limitations of the study are participants’ dietary intake was assessed once, and dietary behaviors may have changed over time. In addition, cooking methods were not considered. Fried chicken, especially deep fat-fried sources that contribute trans-fatty acids, and fried fish intake have been positively linked to chronic diseases, Zhong said.

Reference: “Associations of Processed Meat, Unprocessed Red Meat, Poultry, or Fish Intake With Incident Cardiovascular Disease and All-Cause Mortality” by Victor W. Zhong, PhD; Linda Van Horn, PhD; Philip Greenland, MD; Mercedes R. Carnethon, PhD; Hongyan Ning, MD, MS; John T. Wilkins, MD, MS; Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, MD, ScM and Norrina B. Allen, PhD, 3 February 2020, JAMA Internal Medicine.
DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.6969

Other Northwestern authors are Dr. Philip Greenland, Dr. Mercedes R. Carnethon, Dr. Hongyan Ning, Dr. John T. Wilkins, and Dr. Donald M. Lloyd-Jones.

The study was funded by National Institutes of Health/National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (R21 HL085375), American Heart Association Strategically Focused Research Networks and the Feinberg School of Medicine.

4 Comments on "New Study Makes Clear: Meat Isn’t Good for You"

  1. Rev. Nagi Mato | February 3, 2020 at 12:28 pm | Reply

    I don’t even have to read the study to know it is BS. ANY study can be made to say anything ‘they’ want it to say.

  2. 100% grass fed meat should be considered. Organic chicken is good too. Eating only when hungry is good too. We eat sardines once a week. King Oscar is a good brand. Lay off sugar, wheat, high fructose corn syrup (aks “corn sugar”), white sugar, nutrionally deficient (empty) starches is a good idea. Let all food which passes the lips be something that will give you the nutrients your body needs.

  3. Theodore Herrman | February 4, 2020 at 12:46 am | Reply

    I question the conclusions of this article. First I would investigate the funding for everyone participating in the article. How is money influencing them? Recently there’s been a plethora of anti meat consumption efforts country wide, perhaps even world wide. How does big business benefit from less meat consumption? Who stands to gain? Chicken and cattle have been part of human’s diet for millions of year as evidenced by having canine teeth. Fish, approved by the article for consumption have not been part of our diet until boats appeared in the last 100,000 years or so. Too much false news these days.
    w

  4. Anyone with even a moderate degree of statistical knowledge knows that any study that relies on self reported diet information and then states “The new study pooled together a large diverse sample from six cohorts, included long follow-up data up to three decades, harmonized diet data to reduce heterogeneity, adjusted a comprehensive set of confounders and conducted multiple sensitivity analyse” is absolute hogwash

    Hogwash because of the models used and the confounder adjustments which are subjective.

    The small differences shown are not even enough to imply anything other than weak correlation (but weak correlation with what – behaviour?) and are certainly not large enough to begin to suspect causation.

    With such small differences all we are seeing is confirmation bias.

Leave a comment

Email address is optional. If provided, your email will not be published or shared.