The Meat-Health Connection

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.

The results: red meat increases the risk of dying from cardiovascular causes (by 16 percent) or cancer (by 10 percent).

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!


© 2013 Heart MD Institute. All rights reserved.

Leave a Reply


  1. Hilary Cowart

    on March 27, 2015 at 3:26 pm

    Did the study differentiate between grain fed beef and grass fed pastured beef. Can a blanket statement be made about all beef and the effects on a person’s health?

  2. Geckotreefrog

    on March 27, 2015 at 4:00 pm

    Same question as Hillary! Since the fatty acid profile in Any grass/ pasture fed meat is different/ profoundly better than conventionally raised meat, I would expect different results w/ grass fed v. conventional. We need to know if the study differentiated between the 2.

  3. Richard Kurylski, PhD

    on March 27, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    So all that Mediterranean diet study done in Spain 3 or 4 years ago by Spaniards themselves you often refer to must be a hoax as I expected. Why? I lived on Iberian Peninsula for 32 years and I know what Mediterranean diet is. It is not only fish and lots of veggies and fruits olive oil and 300ml -500 ml of red or white wine a day BUT ALSO HUGE AMOUNTS OF RED AND PORK MEAT. Ãnd we must add to it at least 3 cups of expresso coffee a day.The study must have been done on only a chosen kind of Mediterranean diet, which is not a genuine diet (I haven’t seen the original study). So does it mean that …?

  4. HMDI Editor

    on March 30, 2015 at 2:32 pm

    In this study, dietary intake information was collected from 37,698 men and 83,644 women via “validated food frequency questionnaires.” The researchers differentiated between processed and unprocessed meat; however, they did not specify whether the meat consumed by the participants was grain fed, or pasture raised.

    For related information, be sure to check out the Heart MD Institute home page next Thursday, April 2, 2015. We’ll have posted a brand new article about why grass-fed meat and dairy products are better food choices.

  5. Trond Hagent

    on October 14, 2015 at 2:49 pm

    Other questions of interest:
    1) Did the study discriminate between cooking style – if moderte or hight temperature? fried, cooked or grilled?
    2) Did the study tell what cooking oil was used? (saturated animal fats that is more stable to heat, or unstable vegetable oils? hexan-extracted/processed oils or extra virgin?)

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