If you could only give up one thing to be healthier and less risk of a serious disease like heart attack or cancer, it would be red meat.
The relationship between red meat and cancer has already been pointed out by the World Health Organization. Now a recent study concludes that eating red meat may be detrimental to the heart by changing the size, shape, and function of the heart muscle. It is the most definitive study yet showing that a diet high in red meat increases the risk of heart disease, not just by raising cholesterol or other cofactors that increase the lifetime risk of heart disease, but by changing the heart itself.
The study carried out with data from almost 20,000 people in England, is only the latest to confirm that red meat is bad for health, and this time they have proven it by observing its effect on areas of the heart such as the ventricle, which are key indicators of its good or bad condition.
In previous studies on red meat, it was linked to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, and the World Health Organization classified red and processed meat as class 1 carcinogens, the same classification given to smoking. Other research conducted over the past few decades has confirmed that a diet high in saturated fat, the kind found in red meat, is a risk factor for high cholesterol, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
The meat changes the size and shape of the heart.
“Previous studies have shown links between higher red meat consumption and increased risk of heart attacks or death from heart disease,” said study author Dr. Zahra Raisi-Estabragh, from Queen Mary University of London. “For the first time, we examined the relationships between meat consumption and heart images, obtained by magnetic resonance imaging. This may help us understand the mechanisms underlying previously observed connections with [red meat and] cardiovascular disease.”
The researchers examined the associations of red and processed meat intake with heart anatomy and function. Three types of cardiac measures were observed: MRI of cardiac function, such as the volume of the ventricles, and measures of pumping function. Second, images showing the shape and texture of the heart can indicate the health of the heart muscle. Third, the elasticity of blood vessels as elastic arteries are healthier.
The data were adjusted for factors that could influence heart health, such as age, gender, smoking, alcohol, exercise, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and body mass index.
The researchers found that a higher intake of red and processed meat was associated with poorer heart function on all measures studied. Specifically, people who ate more meat had smaller ventricles, poorer heart function, and stiffer arteries, which worsens cardiovascular health, according to the authors.
The researchers then compared these results with individuals who ate oily fish regularly and found that as the amount of oily fish consumption increased, the arteries became more elastic, and heart function improved.
“The findings support previous observations linking red and processed meat consumption to heart disease and provide unique insights into the links to the structure and function of the heart and blood vessels,” said Dr. Raisi-Estabragh.
Other factors, such as high cholesterol, could be the reason for the link between meat and heart disease, Dr. Raisi-Estabragh added. “It is possible that a higher intake of red meat leads to an increase in blood cholesterol and this, in turn, causes heart disease. Our study suggests that these four factors play a role in the links between meat consumption and heart health, but they are not the whole story.”
The fact that red meat can directly harm the heart is an important finding, as most of the previous evidence had focused on the role of cholesterol in clogging arteries. “There is some evidence that red meat alters the gut microbiome, leading to higher levels of certain metabolites in the blood, which in turn have been linked to increased risk of heart disease,” said Dr. Raisi- Estabragh. “This was an observational study and causality cannot be assumed. But overall, it seems sensible to limit red and processed meat consumption for heart health reasons.”
There are three known ways that red meat affects cardiovascular health:
- It raises the levels of LDL cholesterol, or the so-called “bad” cholesterol, which generates plaque and blockages in the arteries. This is caused by the saturated fat in meat, which raises blood lipids and leads to high cholesterol.
- Change the gut microbiome. When you eat more red meat, harmful bacteria grow and it causes the body to increase the release of TMAO ( trimethylamine oxide). , which leads to the hardening of the arteries.
- Increase sodium in the diet: Meat is often processed with sodium, especially meats like pepperoni, ham, and other sausages, which raise blood pressure and require the heart to work harder to circulate blood to the body.
These three factors are related to cardiovascular diseases. Regularly eating a steak, hamburger, or ham sandwich increases the risk of heart disease by 18 percent.
But the other study that looked at heart imaging was unique in that it recorded a direct effect on the size, shape, and pumping function of the heart, and not just on the related conditions mentioned above.
It’s never too early to start a plant-based diet.
Heart disease takes years and even decades to kick in, so avoiding meat at a young age is a smart choice, especially when it comes to heart health. A plant-based diet reduces the risk of heart disease 30 years later.
Many people still believe that they need red meat to get the protein they need. But the truth is that most Spaniards consume almost twice as much protein as they need. An average sedentary adult needs 0.8 grams of protein per kg of body weight.
For example, a person who weighs 75 kg should consume 60 grams of protein per day. The recommended amount may be increased in the elderly or in those who do intense sports because protein is necessary to repair muscle fibers. But eating too much protein or any other macronutrient is associated with obesity and inflammation, as well as heart disease.
Protein derived from plant sources is healthier. Proteins can be obtained from legumes: soy products, such as tofu, lentils, chickpeas, beans, etc. Nuts, seeds, and cereals complete the requirements.