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What’s the Beef with Red Meat?

September 22, 2013

It seems like red meat is always the culprit that goes hand in hand with clogged arteries, stroke, diabetes and heart disease—in other words, a heart attack on a plate. Not too long ago, a group of scientists at Harvard examined this supposed link between red meat and processed meat consumption and the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and diabetes in a systematic review and meta-analysis of multiple studies. And they finally set the record straight. (1)

What they found is that consumption of processed meats is associated with a higher incidence of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, but not red meat. Why is that? Processed meats often contain preservatives like nitrates and nitrites, which are a major source of nitrosamines, which may contribute to insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes.

Then, of course, there’s the misperception that the saturated fats in red meat increase your levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol, which leads to cardiovascular disease and other ailments. While it’s true that saturated fats may increase LDL cholesterol, when someone’s entire diet is taken into consideration, there is no link between saturated fat and cardiovascular disease. And when you consume saturated fat on an Atkins-type diet, where your body is burning primarily fat for fuel, published research has shown that the level of saturated fat in the blood does not increase. Think of it like this: is the hamburger to blame for your ill health, or the French fries, bun and soda that come with it?

If you are following Atkins, you should be consuming plenty of fresh vegetables (and eventually low-glycemic fruits), with equal opportunity given to poultry, fish, meat and various other protein sources. This emphasis on whole foods (vs. packaged or overly processed foods) is a delicious recipe for good health.

And if you love your deli meats, whenever possible, choose nitrite- and nitrate-free meats or plain, sliced roast beef, turkey, ham and the like.

1) Circulation; Red and Processed Meat Consumption and Risk of Incident Coronary Heart Disease, Stroke, and Diabetes Mellitus.
A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Renata Micha, RD, PhD; Sarah, BA; Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH

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