Is red meat harmful to health?

 The consumption of red meat has increased significantly in the last few decades, especially in highly developed countries. Some people still believe that it is a necessary ingredient of the dinner. Unfortunately, high consumption of red and processed meats contributes to the development of many serious diseases.

The Working Group of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) identified red meat as unprocessed meat from mammalian muscles - beef, pork, lamb, lamb, goat and horse. Processed meat, in turn, was defined as having undergone salting, smoking, curing or other processes aimed at improving its taste or texture.

1. Red meat is not evil

Red meat is a very good source of wholesome protein as it contains essential amino acids. In addition, it is a rich source of B vitamins (especially B12) and minerals such as selenium, zinc and heme iron. It can be recommended in conditions such as anemia.

Even though red meat contains the essential nutrients listed above, there are healthier ways to get them. Meat products contain large amounts of saturated fatty acids, the consumption of which should be limited as much as possible. They contribute to an increase in the level of total cholesterol in the blood and LDL cholesterol, which negatively affects health and contributes to the development of many diseases. Red meat should therefore be eaten in moderation.

2. Meat and cancer

The high mortality of cancer patients  is a huge problem all over the world.

 In 2015, the IARC Working Group classified the consumption of processed meat as a cancer promoting factor and red meat as possibly carcinogenic. It was found that every 100 g of red meat and 50 g of processed meat increases the risk of developing colorectal cancer by nearly 18%. 

It was also found that the consumption of red meat is associated with a higher probability of developing pancreatic and prostate cancer, and that of processed meat - gastric cancer (RJ Turesky 2015). Studies have also shown that postmenopausal women who eat large amounts of red and / or processed meat in their diets are at risk of developing breast cancer (A. Diallo et al. 2017).

3. Meat and type 2 diabetes

A meta-analysis conducted in 2017, including 11 cohort studies with over 52.5 thousand participants. people with type 2 diabetes showed that the consumption of red meat (regardless of the degree of processing) increases the risk of this disease by 22%, while the consumption of processed meat - by as much as 39%. (S. Tian et al. 2017). However, it is not known which ingredients are responsible for this.

They could possibly be:

  • saturated fatty acids - increase insulin resistance,
  • branched chain amino acids (BCAA): leucine, isoleucine, valine - increase cell resistance to insulin and contribute to the increase of glycated hemoglobin,
  • end products of protein glycation - intensify inflammation in the body, thus may lead to impaired insulin sensitivity,
  • heme iron - increased iron concentration may increase the production of glucose and at the same time reduce its use, and - by participating in oxidation - may increase oxidative stress and inflammation, which translates into inhibition of insulin binding,
  • nitrites - the nitrosamines formed from them impair the function of pancreatic B cells, which reduces insulin secretion and thus causes the risk of developing type 2 diabetes,

L-carnitine and phosphatidylcholine - both compounds in the intestine are converted into TMAO (trimethylamine N-oxide), which is responsible for the increase in fasting insulin levels and impaired glucose tolerance (A. Wolk 2017).

4. Meat and cardiovascular diseases
Red meat consumption is associated with the risk of stroke and death from it. It also contributes to the development of coronary heart disease and increases the risk of a heart attack (especially processed meat). It is not known which mechanisms link meat consumption with the development of cardiovascular disease. However, it is assumed that many of them are the same that lead to the development of type 2 diabetes (A. Wolk 2017).

A meta-analysis carried out in 2014 showed that the consumption of red meat is significantly associated with mortality from cardiovascular diseases - it increases the risk of death by as much as 16%. An increase in processed meat consumption by 50 g per day is associated with all-cause mortality and cardiovascular mortality, while an increase in red meat consumption by 100 g per day positively correlates with cardiovascular mortality ( I. Abete et al. 2014).


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