Not all red meat is the same

February 26, 2012

Cancer, Food, Health, Heart disease, Meat

We humans have spent most of our time on this planet as hunter-gatherers, eating animals just as Mother Nature made them — unprocessed.

by Mary Budinger — 

Red meat has been vilified as the cause of cancer and heart disease. But a new landmark study is the first to make a distinction between “real” red meat and manufactured red meat.

Harvard researchers found that eating a 1.8-ounce daily serving of processed meat (about one-and-a-half slices of deli meats or one hot dog) was associated with a 42 percent higher risk of developing heart disease and a 19 percent higher risk of developing diabetes. In contrast, the researchers did not find any higher risk of heart disease or diabetes among individuals eating unprocessed red meat from beef, pork or lamb. This work is the first systematic review and meta-analysis of the worldwide evidence for how eating unprocessed red meat and processed meat relates to risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.

“Although most dietary guidelines recommend reducing meat consumption, prior individual studies have shown mixed results for relationships between meat consumption and cardiovascular diseases and diabetes,” said Renata Micha, lead author of the study. “Most prior studies also did not separately consider the health effects of eating unprocessed red versus processed meats.”

We humans have spent most of our time on this planet as hunter-gatherers, eating animals just as Mother Nature made them — unprocessed.

Harvard’s researchers defined unprocessed red meat as any unprocessed meat from beef, lamb or pork, excluding poultry. Processed meat was defined as any meat preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or with the addition of chemical preservatives; examples include bacon, salami, sausages, hot dogs or processed deli or luncheon meats.

“When we looked at average nutrients in unprocessed red and processed meats eaten in the United States, we found that they contained similar average amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol. In contrast, processed meats contained, on average, four times more sodium and 50 percent more nitrate preservatives,” said Micha. “This suggests that differences in salt and preservatives, rather than fats, might explain the higher risk of heart disease and diabetes seen with processed meats, but not with unprocessed red meats.”

Dietary sodium (salt) is known to increase blood pressure, a strong risk factor for heart disease. In animal experiments, nitrate preservatives can promote atherosclerosis and reduce glucose tolerance, effects which could increase one’s risk of heart disease and diabetes.

For the first time, the research establishment is being told why they need to study natural meats and processed meats as two different entities. When the experts tell us that red meat contributes to heart disease and diabetes, they are confusing apples with oranges. Just as there is a world of difference between farmed salmon and wild-caught salmon, there is a world of difference between meat that comes out of a factory process loaded with salt and other additives, and meat that does not.

It would be interesting to take this study one step further and compare the meat of factory-farmed animals fed an unnatural diet of grain/soy and given hormones, steroids, and antibiotics with the meat from animals that have been grass fed and humanely raised.

Compared to factory-farmed cattle, grass-fed beef is lower in total fat, has two to four times more omega-3 fatty acids, has more vitamin E and contains from three to five times more CLA — conjugated linoleic acid, which may be one of our most potent defenses against cancer.


Mary Budinger is an Emmy award-winning journalist who writes about complementary and alternative medicine. 602-494-1999.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 29, Number 4, Aug/Sept 2010.


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