Behind the headlines: Is there a proven risk of red meat consumption and cardiovascular disease? 

Is there a proven risk of red meat consumption and cardiovascular disease? 

The study (1) headline suggests a risk between higher red meat consumption and cardiovascular disease (CVD); reported 1st August 2022 by the American Heart Association.  The study included nearly 6000 adults over 65 years of age, free from cardiovascular disease (at the start of the study) and over an average timeframe of 12 years.

Should we be alarmed by the findings? Before I’m taken in by a headline, I look deeper at the study itself to see what it’s really telling us. 

This was an “observational study”. It’s based entirely on what each participant records as their food consumption daily. It is known with these types of uncontrolled reporting there is likely to be a high degree of error.

Second, the study was only interested in the recording of daily animal protein consumption: beef, bison, venison, pork, poultry, eggs, fish. It did not record intake of vegetables, fruit, pulses, nuts, seeds, grains (refined and unrefined), fluid consumption and types (water, tea, coffee, fizzy drinks) or alcohol. Third, it did not take into account salt and sugar consumption. And finally it did not record other lifestyle factors like healthy weight maintenance, smoking, exercise, sleep quality and stress.

I am particularly interested in this study as it focused on the link between diet, the gut microbiome and disease. 

What do we know about the gut microbiome and food?

Behind the headlines Is there a proven risk of red meat consumption and cardiovascular disease

We know that gut bacteria use our food as a fuel. In simple terms, the good, beneficial bacteria require a high intake of fibre from a diverse range of fibrous foods (vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, pulses). Pathogenic bacteria feed off a high sugar, higher fat (especially processed) diet. This can be seen in stool test results with an overgrowth of pathogenic microbes and depleted levels of beneficial bacteria.  It’s one reason why I am not a fan of the ketogenic diet, particularly if it is followed long-term. It can result in this dysbiotic picture as the good bacteria have been deprived of their fibrous fuel and the growth of certain pathogenic strains that love fat!

But why could there be a link between gut bacteria and cardiovascular disease

Behind the headlines Is there a proven risk of red meat consumption and cardiovascular disease

All bacteria create compounds (metabolites) as a bi-product of digesting food. Some of these metabolites provide fuel for other bacteria- it’s why they work “synergistically” together.  But metabolites from pathogens can find their way through the gut wall into the bloodstream, dispersing around the body to other tissues and organs where they can create harm. 

What researchers already knew, is that a metabolite known as TMAO is created by bacteria from foods that have high amounts of an amino acid, L-carnitine. Red meat is rich in L-carnitine. This metabolite is associated with a higher risk of inflammation. Inflammation of the artery walls is a significant driver of cardiovascular disease risk. TMAO is also associated with kidney disease and Type 2 diabetes (T2D). It’s one reason why T2D is not only associated with a high sugar diet!

Blood pressure and cholesterol were not associated with increased CVD risk in this study. 

No proof of “cause and effect”

Behind the headlines Is there a proven risk of red meat consumption and cardiovascular disease

It does not prove that red meat consumption increases CVD risk as it is taken out of context. The researchers stated that the study could not prove “cause and effect” that red meat causes cardiovascular disease. 

There was no control over other risk factors (such as other dietary factors like high sugar, high refined food intake) or alcohol, caffeine or salt consumption. 

It also did not measure the impact of risk lowering measures, such as lifestyle (exercise, low stress, healthy weight, not smoking). Or healthy diet of high fibre (from vegetables, pulses, nuts, seeds, a little fruit).

My Expert View

Behind the headlines Is there a proven risk of red meat consumption and cardiovascular disease

It is important to look at ALL foods eaten on a daily basis, not just one type. It is not possible to make an accurate assessment of risk based on one factor (in this study -animal protein). 

Aim for my “healthy plate” model of half vegetables, one third protein and fat and a maximum of 20% non-refined starchy grains (like rice, oats) or root vegetables (like sweet potato, parsnips). 

Aim to eat a diverse diet with different protein sources, vegetables and fruit. 

Eat plant based protein sources (pulses, nuts, seeds, tofu), oily fish, white fish, seafood, eggs, poultry and if desired a little meat every week.  Aim for 40 different plant foods every week. Eat herbs and spices, berries, apples. Consume alcohol sparingly and not every day. Cut back on caffeine and sugary foods. 

Also take steps to manage stress by incorporating stress relieving techniques into your day-to-day life. Look at sleep hygiene methods. Do daily exercise, even a short walk.

Good quality red meat as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle is not a risk.

For more information on these factors, do look at my other blogs/videos/podcasts.


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Keep your eye out for more articles and Peyton Principles in the media.


Gut Health Nutritionist Caroline Peyton Principles
Caroline is a Professional Nutritionist, Naturopath based in Wiltshire.

A little more about me…

Providing expert, personalised, health advice utilising 10 years of nutritional therapy and naturopathy experience with a strong emphasis on digestion and gut health. Zoom or face to face Consultations.

I also develop and deliver well-being in the workplace workshops.

Helping people live happier, healthier more active lives.

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