The link between heart disease and meat consumption has been unclear in past studies, but a recent publication in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition has shown that consumption and rate of consumption of red and/or processed meats are risk factors for heart disease.
The researchers, based at the University of Oxford, conducted a systematic review of previous papers on the connection between meat consumption and the risk of ischemic heart disease. Ischemic heart disease, also called coronary artery disease, is a medical condition in which the heart does not receive enough blood. It is also the most common cause of death in the U.S. and the world. Ischemic heart disease is usually caused by plaque buildup inside the arteries leading to the heart, and heart attacks occur when blood flow to the heart is completely cut off and heart muscle cells begin to die.
The researchers were trying to evaluate the association between the consumption of unprocessed meat, processed meat, and poultry with the risk of ischemic heart disease. They analyzed 13 peer-reviewed studies and found clear links between the consumption of processed or red meat and heart disease. They found that each additional 50 g/day serving of processed meat increases the risk of ischemic heart disease by 18%, and each additional 50 g/day serving of unprocessed red meat increases the risk by 9%. They found no evidence that poultry consumption increases the risk of ischemic heart disease.
The link between meat consumption and heart disease may be due to several factors, but the cause is not entirely clear. Red and processed meats contain high levels of saturated fat, which increases “bad” cholesterol. Processed meats contain high levels of sodium, which can increase blood pressure. Red meat consumption has been linked to increased blood levels of trimethylamine-N-oxide, a compound that is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular events and death. Red and processed meat consumption may also be linked to increased inflammation throughout the body. Although the mechanism connecting red and processed meats to ischemic heart disease is not fully understood, the results of this study clearly indicate that lowering our consumption will lower our risk.