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Is It Really Risky to Eat Red Meat?

An analysis of six studies suggests that if you eat red meat you may run a higher risk of heart problems, However, the additional risk is small.
Is It Really Risky to Eat Red Meat?
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Last fall, a series of research papers published in the Annals of Internal Medicine concluded that people who eat red meat are not more likely to die prematurely from heart disease or cancer than those who do not. This news stirred up a hornets’ nest of controversy. Many nutrition experts rejected the analyses that involved both randomized controlled trials and over 100 studies including six million volunteers.

How Safe Is It to Eat Red Meat?

Now, a new analysis of six studies has produced conflicting information (JAMA Internal Medicine, online Feb. 3, 2020). The investigators collected data from nearly 30,000 participants. These people provided baseline diet data and then were followed for almost 20 years.

The authors found a small association between eating more red meat, processed meat and poultry with cardiovascular disease. Fish had no impact on mortality, either positive or negative. Unlike some previous studies (Journal of Internal Medicine, Oct. 2018), this analysis detected no protective effect from eating fish.

The absolute risk difference was almost 2 percent for people who ate two servings of processed meat weekly compared to those who ate none. In other words, what researchers call the effect size was small over 30 years. People eating processed meat such as salami, bologna, bacon or ham had a higher risk of cardiovascular complications, however. 

Learn More:

If you’d like more advice on what you should eat for better health instead of warnings on what not to eat, you might like our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies.   In it, we describe three different diets that have been shown in studies to have health benefits.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • Zhong VW et al, "Associations of processed meat, unprocessed red meat, poultry, or fish intake with incident cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality." JAMA Internal Medicine, online Feb. 3, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.6969
  • Zhang Y et al, "Association of fish and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids intakes with total and cause-specific mortality: Prospective analysis of 421 309 individuals." Journal of Internal Medicine, Oct. 2018. DOI: 10.1111/joim.12786
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