Red Meat Versus Processed Meat And Disease

There have been a lot of articles in the general news about meat causing disease. More and more of these articles imply that meat leads to heart disease, strokes and other chronic diseases. These articles are based on medical publications that conclude that meat is associated with these diseases.

Problem With Articles Condemning Meat

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Red Meat

However, the studies showing these results do not separate the various types of meats. Frequently the studies lump all meats together. A few separate red meat from other meat such as poultry or fish, but they lump red meat with processed meat. The real culprit does not appear until the various types of meat are separated more finely.

Processed Meat Versus Other Meat

The studies finding problems with red meat or meat in general all include processed meat with fresh meat. However, when processed meat is separated out from other meats, the processed meat is associated with health problems. The other meats have a low association or none at all. This is true even if the meat has a high percentage of saturated fat, such as domestic beef.

Injected Meat

Separating processed meat from other meat is a step in the right direction. However, there is one more step needed. Many meats that are not considered processed meats are still injected with sodium nitrite or sodium chloride (salt) to prolong shelf life. Consumers of injected meat need to be separated from those only consuming fresh meat.

In the studies showing an association of meat with various diseases, the potassium sodium ratio needs to be known. Once the meat is injected, it will appear the same to the consumer as fresh meat, but will have a much worse ratio. The consumer/research participant eating injected meat will not consider the meat to be processed meat.

The injected meats generally are not as bad as the fully processed meats such as sausages, bacon and luncheon meat, but their ratio is worse than fresh meat. Fresh meats, including red meat, generally have favorable potassium sodium ratios, with many having ratios above 3. The consumption of meats with favorable ratios should be associated with lower blood pressure, less heart disease and fewer strokes than the fully processed meats.

Processed meats almost universally have highly unfavorable ratios, with only a few having ratios above 0.5. Consumption of processed meats should be associated with higher blood pressure, more heart disease and more strokes.

A Recent Analysis

One recent analysis (1) showed that red meat is not a problem, but processed meat is. The study reviewed multiple prior studies. It found no association of cardiovascular disease with unprocessed red meat, but did with processed meat. The number of studies separating processed meat from other meats is increasing.

In this paper, the researchers included large groups from the United States and Europe for analysis. The total number of people studied was over half a million. The researchers have a nice, under 2 minute video explaining their results here.

The Next Step

The next step is to separate the consumption of fresh meat from the consumption of injected meat. This will be more difficult since most consumers are unaware of the difference. The usual food frequency questionnaires will not provide reliable results. A more creative approach will be needed to determine the potassium sodium ratio of the meat consumed by research participants.

Until studies begin to include the potassium and sodium content of the diet given to their research participants, studies about meat will have a difficult time to discover the true culprit in meat contributing to hypertension, cardiovascular disease and stroke. They will not succeed in determining if one of the other additives in meat also contributes, or only the potassium sodium ratio of the meat contributes to the problems attributed to meat.

Where To Find Tables Of Potassium Sodium Ratios In Beef And Processed Meats

Your can find tables with potassium sodium ratios of meats, processed and unprocessed, as well as other foods by clicking the “Links to Food Potassium Tables” tab at the top of this page. Then click the link to the food group you are interested in.

1. Processing of meats and cardiovascular risk: time to focus on preservatives. Micha R, Michas G, Lajous M, Mozaffarian D. BMC Med. 2013 May 23;11:136. doi: 10.1186/1741-7015-11-136.

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