By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
Studies over the years indicate that a meat-heavy diet, and particularly red meat, raises your risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, colorectal cancer, and diabetes. Just how big is the risk?
In 2012, researchers from Harvard published a statistical analysis of meat eating and health based on two health databases with more than 110,000 men and women.
That’s a “significant elevation,” the researchers said, and an association that included both processed and unprocessed meat. There was, in fact, a relatively greater risk for processed meats.
Red meats refer to beef, lamb, and pork, meats that are dark in color when raw. Processed meats have been preserved by smoking, salting, curing, or adding a variety of preservatives. This category includes familiar deli products like salami and bologna, bacon, ham, and hot dogs.
The analysis, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that nearly one in 10 deaths in men and 7.6 deaths in women could be prevented if people ate fewer than 0.5 servings of red meat per day. The researchers estimated that substitutions of one serving a day of other foods, including fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy, and whole grains, for one daily serving of red meat could reduce the mortality rate anywhere from 7 to 19 percent.
The analysis also showed that overall people who eat more red meat are less physically active, more likely to smoke and drink alcohol, weigh more, eat more calories, and consume less fruits, vegetables, and grains. These factors were adjusted for in the analysis of the data.
Statistical analyses like these are useful indicators in sizing up the impact of lifestyle factors. My approach to diet is the 80-20 rule, that is, only 20 percent of consumption should be from animal sources, including fish, chicken, lamb, and buffalo. The best diets in the world, eaten in Asia and the Mediterranean, don’t include big chunks of meat like we have in the U.S. Sauces may be flavored with meat but that’s about it. The healthiest diets emphasize plant-based foods, high in phytonutrients, bioflavonoids, and other protective substances, along with fish and chicken. That’s the way to go and this study gives more reason to do so.
Want to learn more about a healthy diet?
Visit my Video Library and watch my What’s Cooking? video series. In it, my son, Step, and I demonstrate how to make quick, easy, healthy, and tasty dishes and drinks, while explaining to you the health benefits associated with consuming them regularly.
In The Healing Kitchen, co-author Jim Healthy and I explain in detail how you can use particular foods like medicine – to help prevent and reverse numerous degenerative diseases like heart disease and cancer. We give you lots of great recipes to try too!
- An Pan, et al. Red Meat Consumption and Mortality. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(7):555-63.
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