The Inflammatory Question: Red Meat Might Not Be So Bad for You After All

Red Meat Two Steaks

Research from the USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center has revealed that red meat consumption may not be directly linked to inflammation, contrary to some prior studies. The team used cross-sectional data from older adults and found that after adjusting for BMI, there was no connection between red meat and inflammation markers. Dr. Alexis Wood emphasizes that any dietary recommendations about red meat should be based on solid scientific evidence.

Inflammation is a risk factor for many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease (CVD), and the impact of diet on inflammation is an area of growing scientific interest. In particular, recommendations to limit red meat consumption are often based, in part, on old studies suggesting that red meat negatively affects inflammation – yet more recent studies have not supported this.

“The role of diet, including red meat, on inflammation and disease risk has not been adequately studied, which can lead to public health recommendations that are not based on strong evidence,” said Dr. Alexis Wood, associate professor of pediatrics – nutrition at the USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital. “Our team sought to take a closer look by using metabolite data in the blood, which can provide a more direct link between diet and health.”

Methodology and Findings

Wood and her team analyzed cross-sectional data captured from approximately 4,000 older adults participating in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), and recently published their findings in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Cross-sectional data is a useful source of evidence on how diet affects health; it uses data that is observed with free-living people, without attempting to influence their usual lifestyle. In this way, it may be easier to take results from such studies and apply them to non-research settings.

In addition to assessing participants’ self-reported food intake and several biomarkers, researchers also measured an array of dietary intake metabolites in blood. Plasma metabolites can help capture the effects of dietary intake as food is processed, digested, and absorbed.

Researchers found that when adjusted for body mass index (BMI), intake of unprocessed and processed red meat (beef, pork, or lamb) was not directly associated with any markers of inflammation, suggesting that body weight, not red meat, may be the driver of increased systemic inflammation. Of particular interest was the lack of a link between red meat intake and C-reactive protein (CRP), the major inflammatory risk marker of chronic disease.

“Our analysis adds to the growing body of evidence that indicates the importance of measuring plasma markers, such as metabolites, to track diet and disease risk associations, versus relying on self-reported dietary intake alone,” Wood said. “Our analysis does not support previous observational research associations linking red meat intake and inflammation.”

The Need for Further Research

Because observational studies cannot indicate cause and effect, randomized controlled trials (RCTs) where individuals are randomly assigned to consume a dietary factor of interest or not consume it, are needed as an additional line of evidence to adequately understand if red meat does not alter inflammation. Several RCTs have demonstrated that lean unprocessed beef can be enjoyed in heart-healthy dietary patterns.

“We have reached a stage where more studies are needed before we can make recommendations to limit red meat consumption for reducing inflammation if we want to base dietary recommendations on the most up-to-date evidence,” Wood said. “Red meat is popular, accessible, and palatable – and its place in our diet has deep cultural roots. Given this, recommendations about reducing consumption should be supported by strong scientific evidence, which doesn’t yet exist.”

Reference: “Untargeted metabolomic analysis investigating links between unprocessed red meat intake and markers of inflammation” by Alexis C. Wood, Goncalo Graca, Meghana Gadgil, Mackenzie K. Senn, Matthew A. Allison, Ioanna Tzoulaki, Philip Greenland, Timothy Ebbels, Paul Elliott, Mark O. Goodarzi, Russell Tracy, Jerome I. Rotter and David Herrington, 1 September 2023, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
DOI: 10.1016/j.ajcnut.2023.08.018

Other contributors to this work include Goncalo Graca, Meghana Gadgil, Mackenzie K. Senn, Matthew A. Allison, Ioanna Tzoulaki, Philip Greenland, Timothy Ebbels, Paul Elliott, Mark O. Goodarzi, Russell Tracy, Jerome I. Rotter and David Herrington.

The study was supported by the Beef Checkoff. Wood was supported, in part, by the USDA/ARS (Cooperative Agreement 58-3092-5-001). Mark Goodarzi was supported by the Eris M. Field Chair in Diabetes Research. Jerome Rotter was supported, in part, by the National Institutes of Health grants from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (DK063491), from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (UL1TR001881), the CHARGE Consortium, and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI; R01HL105756).

7 Comments on "The Inflammatory Question: Red Meat Might Not Be So Bad for You After All"

  1. Interesting that Dr. Alexis C. Woods receives funding from National Cattlemen’s Beef Association for this and other studies that show red meat in a more favorable light healthwise.

  2. Sponsored by Cattlemen’s Beef board. What a bunch of biased propaganda. Shame on you.

  3. lol, two comments criticizing any science that questions the legitimacy and the so-called science from the Food Triangle. The recommendations from the decades old Food Pyramid is actually Propaganda written and endorsed by Special Interest lobbies for the cereal and wheat industry. Cereals and wheats are now proven to have cause mass populations to have obesity, diabetes and cardiac/heart disease. I’d say to all you anti-meat earth/climate zeolots – SHAME ON YOU! You have helped to keep humanity in a never ending diseased ridden state of sickness and misery.

  4. Agree with you Mr. Right. What has the food pyramid, and Standard American (Western) Diet (SAD) gotten us? Fat is the answer.
    These other commenters complain about the source of funding. Fair point, but who funds the studies saying vegetable are king? I’m sure not a biased source.

  5. Sean is correct to follow the money, but it’s a credit to the report that the funding sources are listed. I’m old enough to remember when eggs suddenly became the Worst Thing Ever due to their high cholesterol content. (Back then, science had not yet discovered that there were LDL and HDL cholesterol types, so all of your commercials back then just spouted the “cholesterol bad!” line)

    Come to find out decades later that the original 1960’s and 70’s reports were funded by General Mills, makers of your favorite corn and wheat based cereals. A later study found that the GM report overstated the actual cholesterol in eggs by 300%. One of the studies that discovered this fraud happened to be funded by the dairy industry, but it has since been backed up by others. Bottom line: eat what you want, know your limits, and don’t trust anyone with a post-grad degree..

  6. Human beings evolved as hunter-gatherers and remained so for hundreds of thousands of years. The diet of humans was mostly meat. It was only about 12,000 years ago that agriculture developed. It has been only about 150 years or so that humans had year around access to fruits and vegetables.
    In the 1920s and previously in the USA, heart disease was very rare.
    The human race evolved on a diet that was mostly meat, so why any study that shows eatig meat will not kill you should not be a surprise.

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