Red meat linked to heart disease risk

Credit: Spandan Sharma/ Credit: Spandan Sharma/

A study conducted by Northwestern Medicine and Cornell University demonstrated that there is a connection between the consumption of processed red meat and heart disease. The research contradicts a controversial study from last fall that claimed there is no need to cut red meat from the diet.

According to the study, published on Feb. 3 in JAMA Internal Medicine, having two servings of red or processed meat or poultry per week was associated with a three to seven percent increase in the risk of being diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. Eating red meat or processed meat two times a week was correlated with a three percent increase in the risk of dying by any means.

“It's a small difference, but it's worth trying to reduce red meat and processed meat like pepperoni, bologna and deli meats,” said senior author Norrina Allen in a press release. Allen is an associate professor of preventive medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Red meat consumption also is consistently linked to other health problems like cancer.”

“Modifying intake of these animal protein foods may be an important strategy to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death at a population level,” explained Victor Zhong, an assistant professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell.

A meta-analysis published last November has proven controversial since its authors argued that people do not have to reduce how much processed meat and red meat they consume.

“Everyone interpreted that it was OK to eat red meat, but I don't think that is what the science supports,” said Allen. Zhong agreed, adding, “Our study shows the link to cardiovascular disease and mortality was robust.”

Overall, the researchers surveyed over 26,000 individuals with a mean age of 53.7 years. Follow-up results of up to three decades were included. However, there were some limitations in the data collection methods. The participants self-reported their diet data as they were questioned on what they ate for the last year. The researchers did not consider cooking method as a factor in diet, and only assessed participants’ meat intake once, even though there may have been a change in their behaviors over time.

In addition to red meat, the study positively associated poultry intake with cardiovascular disease. Though the data is insufficient to make a concrete recommendation about consuming poultry, Zhong still suggests that people refrain from eating fried chicken.

As many begin to question the role of red meat in their diets after the results of this study, the authors explored healthier alternatives. Co-author Linda Van Horn, a Feinberg professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern and member of the 2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, said, “Fish, seafood and plant-based sources of protein such as nuts and legumes, including beans and peas, are excellent alternatives to meat and are under-consumed in the U.S.”