Eating red and processed meat ‘increases risk of heart disease’

Eating red and processed meat is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, according to a large-scale review by scientists.

While red meat such as beef, lamb and pork is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals, eating too much is already linked to bowel cancer.

Experts also recommend that people avoid processed meat, such as bacon, ham, some sausages and salami, to cut their risk of cancer.

Now, in the biggest review of all large-scale studies to date, experts have concluded that red and processed meat also increases the risk of heart disease.

Researchers from the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Population Health examined 13 studies on the issue, involving more than 1.4 million people.

All those in the study completed detailed dietary assessments and their health was tracked for up to 30 years.

The results, published in the journal Critical Reviews In Food Science And Nutrition, found that for every 50g per day intake of processed meat, the risk of coronary heart disease rose by 18%.

And for every 50g per day intake of unprocessed red meat (such as beef, lamb and pork), the risk of coronary heart disease rose by 9%.

The experts found no clear link between eating poultry (such as chicken and turkey) and a higher chance of heart issues.

Fortnum and Mason
Eating too much red or processed meat has now been linked to an increased risk of heart disease as well as bowel cancer (Andrew Parsons/PA)

The NHS already recommends that people who eat more than 90g (cooked weight) of red and processed meat per day cut down to 70g or less to reduce their risk of bowel cancer.

Three thin-cut slices of roast lamb, beef or pork (each about the size of half a slice of sliced bread) weigh 90g, while two standard sausages and two thin-cut rashers of bacon are about 130g.

A quarter-pound beef burger weighs about 80g, while one rasher of bacon is about 21g and three slices of ham is about 70g.

The Oxford researchers suggested their findings could be down to the high saturated fat content of red meat, and how much salt is used in processed meat.

High intakes of saturated fat increase levels of harmful low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, while excess salt consumption raises blood pressure.

Both are already well known to contribute to heart disease.

Dr Keren Papier, co-lead author of the study, said: “Red and processed meat have been consistently linked with bowel cancer and our findings suggest an additional role in heart disease.

“Therefore, current recommendations to limit red and processed meat consumption may also assist with the prevention of coronary heart disease.”

Currently in the UK, about 10 in 100 people would be expected to eventually die from coronary heart disease.

The new study suggests that, if these 100 people reduced their unprocessed red meat intake by three-quarters, or if they stopped consuming processed meat altogether, deaths from coronary heart disease would drop from 10 in 100 down to nine in 100.

Dr Anika Knuppel, the other co-lead author of the study, said: “We know that meat production is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and we need to reduce meat production and thereby consumption to benefit the environment.

“Our study shows that a reduction in red and processed meat intake would bring personal health benefits too.”

Previous research has found an increased risk of cancer for every 25g of processed meat a person eats a day, which is just over one rasher of bacon or about one slice of ham.

Victoria Taylor, from the British Heart Foundation, said: “The impact of red and processed meat on our risk of heart disease has been up for debate for decades.

“This review supports existing recommendations to reduce consumption of red and processed meat to help lower our risk.

“This doesn’t mean that you have to give up red and processed meat altogether, a healthy diet isn’t dependent on single foods or nutrients.

“Consider your diet as a whole to get the balance right. The Mediterranean diet is linked to a lower risk of heart disease and includes only small amounts of red and processed meat, focusing more on plant-based protein such as lentils, nuts and seeds, and fish as well as including plenty of fruit, vegetables and wholegrains.”