The health impact of excessive consumption of red meat, according to science

Globally, production and consumption of all types of meat have increased significantly over the past 50 years, according to the World Health Organization. However, the so-called red ones, which are part of the usual meals of many people, are today in the crosshairs of researchers.

The health concern arises because there are observational studies that suggest that excessive consumption of red meat, which includes that from cattle, lamb, pork, veal, lamb and goat; It may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified processed meat as a group 1 carcinogen for humans, while red meat has been classified as a group 2A carcinogen (probably carcinogenic for humans), which means that both types could harm human health.

What are the different types of red meat

“Red meat has been an important part of the diet of human beings throughout their evolution. When included as part of a varied diet, it provides proteins of high biological value and essential nutrients, some of which – such as iron – are more bioavailable than in other foods,” explained Marianela Ackermann, a doctor specializing in internal medicine and nutrition, director of the CIEN Center for Nutrition and Diabetes and coordinator of the Obesity Group of the Argentine Nutrition Society.

“There are observational studies that suggest that red meat and, especially processed meat, are associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease -such as heart attacks-, cancer and diabetes, while white meat -such as fish- is neutral or is associated with a lower risk. However, let us remember that these types of studies do not establish causality. On the other hand, this association is greater for processed meat (deli meats, sausages, among others) so there is no doubt that the consumption recommendations for the population of processed and unprocessed meat should be different,” he commented.
It is essential – said Dr. Ackermann – not to demonize foods because “lean red meats provide proteins of high biological value, iron, vitamin B12 and a low percentage of fat. A comprehensive lifestyle approach should be taken to reduce the risk of diabetes and other chronic diseases.”

The risk of developing diabetes}

Concern about excessive consumption of red meat was revived with the recent publication of a study led by researchers at the TH Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University in the United States. They found that people who eat just two servings of red meat a week may have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those who eat fewer servings. Furthermore, the risk increases if there is greater consumption of meat.

The research also revealed an option to make a change: replacing red meat with healthy sources of plant proteins, such as nuts and legumes, or with moderate amounts of dairy, since these foods are associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

The study was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Xiao Gu was the first author and considered that the results “strongly support dietary guidelines that recommend limiting the consumption of red meat, both processed and unprocessed.”

Similar evidence has been found before, but the new study looked at a large number of cases of type 2 diabetes among participants who were followed over a long period of years. They used data from 216,695 people from the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS), NHS II and Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS).

Diet was assessed using food frequency questionnaires every two to four years, for up to 36 years. During this time, more than 22,000 participants developed type 2 diabetes.

Those who ate the most red meat had a 62% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those who ate the least. Each additional daily serving of its processed version was associated with a 46% increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes and each additional daily serving of unprocessed red was associated with a 24% increased risk.

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong another recent discovery put red meat in the spotlight. It was carried out by a team from the School of Public Health, LKS Faculty of Medicine, University of Hong Kong (HKUMed). They reviewed large-scale metadata covering more than 4.4 million people, and concluded that red meat consumption is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

For example, an increase of 50 grams per day in processed red meat consumption is associated with a 26% increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and a 44% increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

The health damage was less evident in Eastern settings, who consume more whole grains and vegetables and less red meat, than in Westerners, who consume more red meat and less vegetables and whole grains. The results were published in the European Heart Journal.

Dr. Jane Zhao Jie led this work and clarified that unprocessed red meat seems to have a lower risk than processed meat. It was also clarified that 100 grams per day of unprocessed red meat continue to be related to an 11% higher risk of CVD and a 27% higher risk of type 2 diabetes.

What is the relationship with colorectal cancer?

Other researchers have warned of evidence that consumption of red and processed meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer.

A study by the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom with institutions in Australia and New Zealand found that of almost 500,000 people, every additional 50 grams of red meat consumed per day increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. Every additional 25 grams of processed meat consumed per day, equivalent to a rasher or slice of ham, increased the risk by 19%. It was published in the journal Epidemiology.

It is also important to take into account how it is cooked. For example, cooking a steak over high heat, especially over open heat, affects the exterior. This causes the formation of chemical compounds that have been shown to cause cancer at very high doses in animal models, and some studies in humans have found an association with increased cancer rates, Katherine Livingstone of the Institute of Nutrition noted in The Conversation. and Physical Activity from Deakin University in Australia.
Regarding the way the animal is raised or its breed, based on current evidence, nutritional differences are unlikely to have a substantial impact on human health. But research in this field is limited.