More Bad News for Red Meat

August 14, 2012 in General, Health Claims, Nutrition by Joyce Bunderson

If the already-known increased risk of cancers, coronary heart disease, and diabetes were not enough to slow each of us down on red meat consumption, maybe a new meta-analysis published in Stroke will supply some extra motivation. The analysis included 329,495 participants and 10,630 cases of stroke indicated that consumption of red meat is associated with increased risk of ischemic stroke. This particular study included both fresh red meat and processed red meat, such as: beef, pork, lamb, ham, hot dogs, sausage, and bacon. (Don’t buy the very clever marketing from the National Pork Board – The Other White Meat; pork is a red meat, always was and always will be.)

The analysis found an 11% to 13% relative increase in the risk of strokes for each one-serving-per-day increase in fresh, processed, and total red meat intake. Interestingly, they found no relationship between red meat consumption and hemorrhagic stroke risk. Most strokes are not hemorrhagic strokes; so the study is pointing to the greater number of strokes.

Those who did the analysis adjusted statistically for age, body mass index, alcohol consumption, smoking, physical activity, diabetes, hypertension, energy intake, and fruit and vegetable consumption. These adjustments help the researchers assure that it is the red meat increasing the risk, not other factors known to do so.

The researchers don’t really know why red meat is associated with stroke, but they are looking at saturated fats and the resulting higher levels of cholesterol and triglycerides; the high doses of iron, which may lead to oxidative stress (peroxidation of lipids, protein modification, and DNA damage); and also in the case of the processed red meat the nitrite preservatives.

The Food Processors

Some in the popular press say that only two percent of the population follows a vegetarian diet, but we do not have to stop eating red meats entirely to benefit. The numbers of those limiting meat consumption are rising. The food processors are positioning themselves for the public’s demand for less meat.  It isn’t just for vegetarians but also for those who simply, responsibly, want to decrease the number of meals containing meat. There are many reasons for limiting meat consumption including the environmental impact; in addition, there are several subcategories of reduced meat consumption, they include: Vegans (those who consume no animal products); Lacto-ovo vegetarians (those who consume dairy products and eggs); and pescatarians (those who eat fish but not other animal products); and the newly coined term, flexitarians (who sometimes eat meat, but not as often as the general public).

Food processors are discovering that the meat analog sector has not surged as much as expected, despite declining meat consumption. My personal guess is that more people are just relying on non-meat whole foods like beans or legumes and rice; and peanut butter sandwiches, for example. People who turn away from frequent meat consumption may be doing it largely as a nutritional issue – they know proteins are available from plant, not just from animal flesh. If that is the case it may explain why the food processors are not seeing much of a surge in the sales of the meat analog products. The possibility exists that those who are newly embracing some form of vegetarianism are wary of the latest concoction that the food processors develop.

Another of my guesses (no data on this) is that products like Quorn (the leading brand of imitation meat mycoprotein – vat grown fungus) might be a hard sell. Sure the food processors can put it into products and if the public doesn’t have to read ‘fungus’ on the ingredient label, it might be easier to sell. It used to be mostly soy, wheat, and pea protein but now Quorn is considered the latest in meat substitutes.

Others are using biofuel co-products – yum, yum, yum; I think this is being used mostly as fish feed; but certainly we ultimately eat the fish. Tracking down what goes in our mouths is becoming more and more difficult. Like many other vegetarians and meat reducers, we (Dr. Grandpa (Vic) and I, who consider ourselves to be flexitarians) will probably continue to get our non-meat protein from legumes, seeds, nuts, vegetables and grains.

You can get the food processor’s perspective on meat substitutes in Food’s five articles (1; 2; 3; 4; 5) published in their: Special Edition: Meat substitutes come off the bench. In spite of the falling numbers for meat consumption, you will see that they are hopeful that the sales of meat substitutes will pick up at a rate over 4% this coming year. They are also counting on meat consumption worldwide going up strongly, providing more incentive to mix meat substitutes into processed products to meet the increased demand – to “stretch” the meat.

Strokes have a nasty way of increasing morbidity and mortality worldwide; if you know someone who has suffered from a stroke and did not die; you know that you want to avoid having a stroke. I personally think that ‘sparingly’ is a good word – always – to modify red meat consumption. It doesn’t mean that you can never enjoy red meat again, but the evidence is, and more and more are deciding, that it is wise to consider limiting both the frequency and amount of red meat that you consume.