Burgers – Is That A Yes?
Sort of. A study just published in the journal Circulation analyzed the effects of eating red unprocessed meat (100g a day of unprocessed beef, pork, or lamb) compared to processed meat products (50g of meat preserved by smoking, curing, salting, or with added chemical preservatives such as sausages, bacon, and salami).
Researchers at the Harvard School of Public health analyzed data from studies that looked at red and processed meat consumption and possible links to heart disease and diabetes. The studies included over 1.2 million people who were followed from 4 to 18 years. The conclusion: red unprocessed meat isn’t associated with an increased risk of diabetes or coronary heart disease. Eating the equivalent of one hot dog or two slices of deli meat a day (50 g of processed meat) is associated with a 42% higher risk of coronary heart disease and a 19% increased risk of diabetes.
Suspected Demons: Salt And Preservatives
We’re used to the US guidelines that recommend eating less red and unprocessed meat — but these guidelines are based on the projected effects of the saturated fat and cholesterol in the meat. Red meat and processed meat contain a similar amount of both of these, but processed meat has about four times the amount of sodium and 50% more preservatives (like nitrates) than unprocessed red meat.
Conclusion: this study (a systematic review of nearly 1,600 studies from around the world that looked for links between processed and unprocessed red meat and the risk of heart disease and diabetes) suggests that salt and other preservatives might explain the higher risk associated with processed meat.
What Kind Of Meat Are They Talking About?
This study defined processed meat as any meat preserved by smoking, curing, salting, or with added chemical preservatives. This includes bacon, salami, sausages, hot dogs, and processed deli and lunch meat. The unprocessed red meat included beef, lamb, and pork, but not poultry. On average, a 1.8 oz (50 g) daily serving of processed meat (half the weight of the unprocessed meat in the study), the equivalent of one to two slices of deli meat or one hot dog, was associated with a 42% higher risk of heart disease and a 19% higher risk of diabetes and they found no higher heart or diabetes risk in people who ate only unprocessed red meat.
The average nutrients in unprocessed red and processed meats in the United States contain similar average amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol. But processed meats have, on average, four times more sodium and 50% more nitrate preservatives.
Is This A Greenlight To Chow Down On Red Meat?
Not really. Eating unprocessed beef, pork, or lamb appears not to increase the risk for heart disease and diabetes — but there is no reduced risk either. There’s also a suspected association between processed and unprocessed meats and a higher risk of some cancers (especially colorectal) so it will be important to evaluate unprocessed vs. processed meat and their effects on various cancers.
Although cause and effect can’t be proven by this long-term observational study, the results do suggest that the salt and preservatives in processed meat are culprits.
You’ve heard this many times: emphasize food that is protective: fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and nuts. Minimize or avoid processed meats that are high in sodium, additives, and fat. This is not a free pass to eat red meat with abandon but it seems that having unprocessed red meat once or twice a week is a lot better than having processed meat — like bacon, hot dogs, processed ham, bologna, salami — every day.
As one of the lead authors, Renata Micha, of the study says, to lower your risk of heart attacks and diabetes think about the type of meat you’re eating and “processed meats such as bacon, salami, sausages, hot dogs and processed deli meats may be the most important to avoid.”