Is red meat bad for you or not?

Is red meat bad for you or not?

In 2019, an international study came under scrutiny for suggesting that reducing how much red and processed meat you eat might not have the obvious health benefits that has long been thought.

But researchers from a 2020 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association again found that eating red meat does increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.

What are the facts?

Dr. Mahesh Raju, cardiologist at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital, identifies three things you should know about eating red and processed meats.

Eating red meat, processed meat or poultry increases risk of heart disease

“With the exception of fish, a high intake of red and processed meats and poultry is linked with higher risk for heart disease,” says Dr. Raju. “This means eating two or more servings a week of processed or unprocessed meat or poultry – which is high in fat and cholesterol – can lead to heart disease.”

The American Heart Association recommends a serving size of meat to be 3 ounces (roughly a deck of cards).

What is processed and unprocessed meat?

“Processed meat is in some way preserved,” says Dr. Raju. “This also includes flavoring through salting, curing, fermenting and smoking.”

An example of foods that are processed include:

  • Ham
  • Sausage
  • Hot dogs
  • Deli meats

Eating processed meats also increases your chances of colorectal cancer because of the chemicals used to preserve the meat.

Prioritize fruits and vegetables.

To reduce your risk of heart attack, eat fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds while limiting most meat, says Dr. Raju.

For healthier protein options, choose chicken or turkey breast that is baked, grilled or roasted and never smoked. Fish baked or grilled is a great option along with plant proteins like beans, legumes and soy.

In addition to limiting your intake of red meat, fried foods and sugar-sweetened beverages should also be restricted.

Know your risk of heart disease and stay proactive by taking a free heart health quiz.

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  1. “This means eating two or more servings a week of processed or unprocessed meat or poultry – which is high in fat and cholesterol – can lead to heart disease.”

    Now chicken and turkey are included in the list of not so good for you meat?

    • I agree with all the comments. Remember years ago when they said eggs were bad for you? Then a few years later they said, ‘the incredible edible egg’. It’s all media propaganda.

  2. I think this article is very deceiving. I have lost a considerable amount of weight eating seafood and grass fed beef as my primary sources of protein and my cholesterol has gone down. This article does not account for grass fed organic meat and if that makes a difference, it should address that. The idea that one would consume 2 servings or less of any meat besides fish in a week is unreasonable based on the economics alone.

  3. I am not sure why this article putting “processed meat” and “other meat” to the same category. There is a very big difference. Lean chicken was supposed to be lower on cholesterol. Why it took years of research to find out that poultry and beef have equally high cholesterol?

  4. The article doesn’t address any of the benefits of a low-carbohydrate diet, where your prioritize protein and use fat as your primary fuel source. Nutrition is not a one-size-fits-all science, and they shouldn’t be making such blanket statements about meat. This smacks of the food pyramid, which has been completely debunked.

  5. This is yet another study conducted using the tragically flawed methodology of nutrition epidemiology. Nutrition epidemiology studies are not scientific experiments; they are wildly inaccurate, questionnaire-based guesses (hypotheses) about the possible connections between foods and diseases. This approach has been widely criticized as scientifically invalid, yet continues to be used by influential researchers at prestigious institutions.
    The hypotheses generated are often prematurely trumpeted to the public as implicit fact in the form of media headlines, and dietary guidelines. Tragically, more than 80% of these guesses are later proved wrong in clinical trials. With a failure rate this high, nutrition epidemiologists would be better off flipping a coin to decide which foods cause human disease.
    The truth is that there is no human clinical trial evidence tying red meat to any health problem.
    It’s time to stop bashing red meat because I’m convinced by the science, that animal foods are essential to optimal human health.
    To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a human clinical trial designed to test the health effects of simply removing animal foods from the diet, without making any other diet or lifestyle changes such as eliminating refined carbohydrates and other processed foods. Unless and until such research is conducted demonstrating clear benefits to this strategy, the assertion that human beings would be healthier without animal foods remains an untested hypothesis with clear risks to human life and health.

  6. Dr. Tony Hampton

    Confusion as JAMA releases an observational study that reviewed six different trials and found there was an association between red meat/processed meat and CVD.

    Should we trust the results of this study?

    Imagine six trails where questionnaires (FFQ) are sent out, and the questions ask respondents to remember what they ate over the last year. Based on the responses, they review the illness that occurs over time and use that information to find any associations with meat consumed and the illnesses they got.

    Do you remember how many ounces of rib-eye you ate six months ago?

    It was also found in this study that the meat-eaters were more likely to:

    1) Smoke cigarettes
    2) Drink alcohol
    3) Eat more than 1100 calories more than those who ate less meat
    4) Have overall unhealthy eating habits

    It’s hard to determine; rather, it was the meat or these other factors that caused increased illness risk. Your dietary decisions should not be based on “Low-Quality Evidence”!

    Until the studies are double-blind clinical studies that show causation, I suggest you enjoy your steak.

    A video that provides similar talking points to question the JAMA article:

  7. Dr. Tony Hampton


  8. Dr. Tony Hampton

    Agree. Was the animals grass fed verses grain fed? Too often studies are not distinguishing between these nuances that matter.

  9. I highly encourage people to watch Forks Over Knives, The Game Changers and What the Health. Watching these documentaries can be eye opening and help people decide what is best for their optimal health. Take advertising, industry, government and all of the chatter out of the equation when it comes to your health. Become an informed consumer and decide what is best for you. That is what I did and I’ve never felt healthier. 🙂

  10. As a Lifestyle Medicine family physician, we know that the only eating plan that has shown to prevent and reverse disease, and the only plan shown in large epidemiologic studies to maintain a healthy weight, is a plant-based eating plan, one that emphasizes pulses (lentils/beans/peas), whole grains, especially whole intact grains, fruits/veggies, and nuts/seeds as the main sources of calories. Protein is important, yes, but if you look at the plant-based versions you will see they are much more healthful than even chicken or fish. In populations that live the longest in the world, their main diet consists of these foods, while the animal products comprise a smaller portion. The longest-lived people in the USA live in Loma Linda, California, and the Seventh Day Adventists have the longest life of any population in the USA. It is a “blue zone”. The other aspects of lifestyle medicine include moderation of alcohol, avoidance of cigarettes and substances, high amounts of physical activity including cardio and resistance, stress management, healthy relationships and good sleep health. Good health is a package deal. If this is interesting to you, feel free to ask for a consultation. We only get one chance in life to get it right, and we should do the most we can, not the least we can.

  11. I personally don’t believe we s/b eating our fellow animals. It’s a cruel but, unfortunately, not unusual practice.
    Aside from the moral aspect, hv u ever cooked a steak & then noticed how the cooling fat coagulates like candle wax. Healthy oils (olive, canola, macadamia nut, etc.) don’t do that. IMO, animal fat can’t be good for our arteries.

  12. Do Americans, in general, eat too much red meat and too much processed meat? I think we can all agree with that. But, let’s be sensible. Having a limit of two small servings of red meat per week does not make sense.

    First, I love eating seafood and would prefer it every day of the week. However, I have canine teeth, which are associated with a body that is compatible with tearing through more than vegetables, fruit, and fish. I eat more red meat than I like, but I limit my portions. I’m in my seventies, my LDL and HDL are excellent, no medications, my BMI is 22.4 (middle of normal), and I exercise vigorously five or more hours per week.

    Secondly, as for the Feb. 2020 JAMA article that this column refers to: what a mess — too many variables, not enough controls, probably too many authors. However, in it’s own conclusion, “This study’s findings suggest that among US adults, higher intake of processed meat, unprocessed red meat, or poultry, but not fish, was significantly associated with a SMALL INCREASED RISK of incident CVD [cardiovascular disease]. Higher intake of processed meat or unprocessed red meat, but not poultry or fish, was significantly associated with a SMALL INCREASED RISK of all-cause mortality. ” Note: I added [cardiovascular disease] and changed to caps their “small increased risk” to emphasize their assessment.

About the Author

health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.