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Can Red Meat be Part of a Cholesterol-Lowering Diet?
Red meat consumption has been linked with poor cholesterol scores, breast, colon and rectal cancers, increased risk of diabetes and other chronic diseases. For a long time when I talked to my patients about eating healthier they would immediately tell me that they would stop eating red meat.
Red Meat and Diabetes
We know that eating red meat, especially processed meats like hot dogs, bacon, or bologna, should be limited to once a week or less. Red meats and processed meats have been linked to increased risks of colon and rectal cancers, heart disease and diabetes, and death from any cause.
Red Meat is Fine! Redux
Nutritionists and doctors have been saying for years to limite your intake of red meat. Certainly if you've used The Dr. Gourmet Diet Plan to plan your meals, you've seen that I recommend that you limit yourself to one red meat meal per week. In terms of nutrition, "red meat" includes unprocessed beef, pork and lamb.
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Yesterday a reader sent me the following email:
Subject: OMG More Bad News on Red Meat
It looks as if the news is worse than we thought. Three ounces of red meat a day will shorten our life expectency and of course luncheon meats and hot dogs will shave even more time off.
Do you know whether this study differentiated between grades of red meat and kinds (beef, lamb, bison)?
If you follow health news at all, whether that's online or just catching the evening news on television, you've probably heard about this study, just published in the Archives of Internal Medicine (doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.2287). While the media has been making much of the story, acting almost as if eating red meat of any kind will make you drop dead, the truth is that if you've been following Dr. Gourmet and eating a Mediterranean style diet, you know that there's nothing to be so alarmed about.
The study in question made use of data gathered through two very large, long-term studies, one of male health professionals and one of female nurses. For the purposes of this study, the researchers excluded any participant who had a history of heart disease or cancer or who did not thoroughly fill out the diet questionnaire for the years the researchers chose to use as their starting point.
Every two or four years the participants in the study updated their health information as well as their diet through questionnaires. The dietary portion of these questionnaires included questions about processed versus unprocessed meats and defined them in the following ways: unprocessed meats were referred to as "beef, pork or lamb as main dish," or "hamburger," or "beef, pork or lamb as a sandwich or mixed dish" (no, it did not differentiate between grades of meat or different types of red meat any further than beef, pork or lamb). Processed meats were referred to as "bacon," "hot dogs," or "sausage, salami, bologna, and other processed red meats."
Over the course of the study, which lasted between 22 and 28 years, the researchers were able to compare the diets of those who died (of any cause) or who developed heart disease or cancer with those who did not. They found, as you may be aware, that an increase of 1 serving of unprocessed red meat per day led to a 13% increase in the risk of death from any cause, while processed meats increased that risk of death to 20%. The increase in risk of death from heart disease was 18% for unprocessed red meat and 21% for processed red meat, and the increased risk of death from any type of cancer was 10% for unprocessed red meat and 16% for processed red meat.
The researchers went on to assess the change in risk if you were to substitute one serving of some other protein source in place of one serving of the red meat and discovered that substituting one serving of fish for one serving of red meat would reduce your risk of death from any cause by 7%. Other protein sources they analyzed included poultry, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy products and whole grains, and all helped reduce the risk of death.
As the headline says: don't panic, and keep in mind that this research was looking at the effects of eating read meat on a daily basis. Actually, this piece of research just supports the Mediterranean style diet pattern. I've been saying for the past several years that processed meats like bacon or hot dogs should be avoided, but that lean red meats are okay in moderation. That's why The Dr. Gourmet Diet Plan recommends that over the course of two weeks your dinner meals should include 6 fish or shellfish meals, 3 poultry, 3 vegetarian, and just 2 of red meat - that's once per week. Yes, you can still eat red meat!