You might want to think twice next time you order a steak or burger at your favorite restaurant. That’s a tough pill to swallow for meat lovers, as there may be nothing more satisfying for them than a juicy filet or a rack of ribs. Plenty of studies, however, point to harmful side effects from consuming too much red meat that pose serious threats to longterm health.
Of course, many of these health warnings are nothing new. Having red meat as part of your diet has long been linked to an increased risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease and even death. But how much do you really know about the downsides of a red meat-heavy diet?
StudyFinds has collected a number of findings over the years about the risks red meat can pose — especially when processed. As delicious as that porterhouse may be, here are seven reasons to avoid red meat in your diet.
Sharp rise in red meat diet-related deaths
Red meat and processed foods like bacon, sausage, and burgers are contributing to a “sharp increase” in diet-related deaths.
Researchers from Michigan State University say the worldwide increase in processed meat consumption over the last three decades appears to have a connection to over 10,000 more deaths from preventable illnesses related to what people eat in recent years. These conditions include colon cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
Their findings reveal the impact has been greatest in Europe and island nations in the Caribbean and Oceania. Study authors believe health policies should be integrated with agricultural and trade policies among importing and exporting nations “as a matter of urgency” to reduce further preventable deaths.
Overall, data shows worldwide red and processed meat trade increased by more than 148 percent over the last three decades, going from 10 metric tons in 1993-95 to nearly 25 metric tons in 2016-18. During the same period, the number of net importing countries rose from 121 to 128.
Higher stroke risk
Red meat and processed meats like bacon and sausage can contribute to a person’s risk of having a stroke, scientists warn. A team with the American Heart Association add that eating more vegetable fat or polyunsaturated fat lowered this risk.
The large scale study found red and processed meat lovers were up to 16% more prone to suffer a stroke. Just one serving of processed meats each day increased the risk by 12%.
Regularly eating red and processed meat can lead to Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and some cancers — particularly in the colon.
The study is the most comprehensive to date, linking stroke risk to vegetable, dairy, and non-dairy animal fats. The results come from an examination of 117,136 health workers in the U.S. who researchers tracked for up to 27 years.
Red meat can cause DNA damage, mutations in patients with colorectal cancer
A study finds there’s genetic evidence which may prove eating red meat literally damages your DNA and can lead to colorectal cancer.
Researchers discovered genetic mutations in the distal colon, which is the last part of the organ that includes the descending and sigmoid portions of the colon. These mutations, in both cancerous and cancer-free tissues samples from red meat eaters, all showed signs of alkylation, a specific form of DNA damage. Disturbingly, the team finds this alkylating signature in tumors also makes it more likely patients will die from colorectal cancer. Patients with tumors showing high levels of alkylating damage had a 47-percent greater chance of dying from the disease.
“We have known for some time that consumption of processed meat and red meat is a risk factor for colorectal cancer,” explains Dr. Marios Giannakis, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a physician at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. “These findings suggest that red meat consumption may cause alkylating damage that leads to cancer-causing mutations in KRAS and PIK3CA, thereby promoting colorectal cancer development. Our data further support red meat intake as a risk factor for colorectal cancer and also provide opportunities to prevent, detect, and treat this disease.”
Poorer functioning hearts linked to red meat diet
A report finds consuming red meat and processed foods, like sausages and bacon, leads to the potential for poorer heart function.
The study of nearly 20,000 adults reveals regular consumers of these meats are prone to having stiffer arteries. They also performed worse in three different tests that measure how healthy the heart is. The results add to previous studies detailing the dangers of red and processed meat.
The results show a link between greater intake of red and processed meat and impaired outcomes across all types of heart scans. Specifically, meat eaters had smaller ventricles that pump blood out, poorer heart function, and stiffer arteries. These are all markers of worse cardiovascular health.
Scientists urge meat eaters to switch to alternatives like salmon, sardines, mackerel, and trout. The study finds heart function improved and arteries were stretchier among participants consuming large amounts of oily fish.
“There is some evidence that red meat alters the gut microbiome, leading to higher levels of certain metabolites in the blood, which have in turn been linked to greater risk of heart disease,” says lead author Dr. Zahra Raisi-Estabragh of Queen Mary University of London. “This was an observational study and causation cannot be assumed. But in general, it seems sensible to limit intake of red and processed meat for heart health reasons.”
Beware grilling red meat
For most meat eaters, there’s nothing better than a perfectly cooked steak. Unfortunately, a report says grilling red meat is also cooking up trouble for your heart. A University of South Australia study finds certain cooking methods produce a compound that may increase the risks for heart disease, stroke, and diabetic complications.
“When red meat is seared at high temperatures, such as grilling, roasting or frying, it creates compounds called advanced glycation end products – or AGEs – which when consumed, can accumulate in your body and interfere with normal cell functions,” researcher Dr. Permal Deo says.
Study authors reveal red and processed meats which undergo high-heat caramelization see a significant rise in AGEs. Eating these meats can increase a person’s daily AGE intake by 25%. The study warns this increase can contribute to “vascular and myocardial stiffening, inflammation and oxidative stress – all signs of degenerative disease.”
Greater risk of heart disease, early death
If you love sitting down for big steak dinner or look forward to summer barbecues, modern science has some bad news. A comprehensive study conducted by researchers from Cornell University and Northwestern University reports some eye-opening findings regarding the influence of meat on one’s long-term health outlook. Processed meat, red meat, and even chicken will raise one’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease, and any meat besides chicken will raise the risk of dying from all causes.
According to the research team, consuming two servings of red meat, processed meat, or poultry on a weekly basis results in a 3-7% higher chance of developing cardiovascular disease. Additionally, two servings of red or processed meat per week was associated with a 3% higher chance of death by any cause.
“It’s a small difference, but it’s worth trying to reduce red meat and processed meat like pepperoni, bologna and deli meats,” says senior study author Norrina Allen, associate professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Red meat consumption also is consistently linked to other health problems like cancer.”
Red meat consumption even tied to macular degeneration
According to a study by researchers at the University of Buffalo, individuals who regularly eat a diet with large amounts of red and processed meat, fried foods, refined grains, and high-fat dairy were about three times more likely to develop the eye condition macular degeneration.
Officially, macular degeneration is usually referred to as age-related macular degeneration, or AMD. AMD is irreversible, and greatly affects one’s ability to drive and perform other common daily activities. That’s because the condition damages the retina and affects one’s central vision.
A typical Western dietary pattern could be a risk factor for developing age-related macular degeneration. Such diets tend to favor red and processed meats, high-fat dairy, and refined grains. However, while this research did not find that an average Western diet quickens the development of AMD, it did find evidence that it raises one’s risk of developing the disease in old age.
Of course, it’s incredibly important that any changes to your diet should always be discussed with your doctor first. Similarly, you should not hesitate to raise any health concerns you might have regarding your consumption of red meat with your physician.