Eating too much red meat raises your risk of dying from heart disease

Red meat is back in the news again this week of March 12th 2012, with the worrying results of a new study from the United States into it’s effects on our health, when other factors are removed from the equation.

And it’s not just heart disease that this affects but bowel cancer, as well – which is the second most common form of fatal cancer in the United Kingdom.


A very large study indicates too much meat is bad for your mortality, not just your general health


Unlike previous scientific research into the effects of meat consumption on human health, this study looked at the mortality risk, not just the effects on health alone.

Also, this research, carried out by the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, involved a massive group of people – numbering more than one hundred and twenty thousand folks – so it’s findings are more likely to be accurate with such a large amount of data available.

It sounds pretty obvious but the science behind it seems to be irrefutable – if you reduce the amount of red meat in your overall diet, you can get real tangible beneficial improvements to your heart health.


How much red meat is too much red meat ?


There’s a couple of instant questions that pop up in my mind at this point :-

1. How much red meat is too much red meat ? per day ? per week ?

2. Are some types of meat better or worse than others for your health ?

The answer to these questions lies in the published results of the Harvard research, and it’s probably easiest to just bullet point the main findings :-

  • Eat no more than 70 grams (approx 2.5 ounces) per day, or 490 grams per week (approx 17.5 ounces)
  • This equates to a WEEKLY amount of 3 sausage links, one small steak, one quarter pound burger and a couple of slices of roast beef or lamb
  • Processed and cured meats appear to be more harmful than freshly cooked meat. If you eat two strips of bacon per day you are 20% more likely to die from heart disease or cancer than if you don’t. Ouch.


Replace Red Meat Dishes with Fish, Chicken or Nuts


One strange statistic that came from the Harvard research is that by replacing a single weekly meat meal with a fish dish, you can improve your chances of staying alive by 7%, but if you replace the same same weekly meat meal with a chicken dish, this rises to an amazing 13%. I would have thought that the fish dish would have more of an improvement in health benefit than the chicken dish, but apparently not so!

As usual with these kinds of studies, there is a response from a meat industry representative who argues that the study is either wrong, biased or inconclusive. In this case the spokesperson claimed that it was not necessarily just the red meat that was responsible for the increased death rates. Also it is claimed that the average United Kingdom meat intake is already less than 70 grams per day.

However, it is difficult to argue against fact. Here’s the staggering overall conclusion – during the long term length of the study well over twenty thousand of the volunteers died, but up to two thousand of these people may have died unnecessarily, just because of the amount of red meat that they ate.


Whole Grains and Wholemeal can protect against Stroke

Eating wholegrain, wholemeal and other high fibre foods such as vegetables and fruits can significantly lower your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. The beneficial effects on heart health have even been compared with taking statin drugs.

There has previously been more evidence for the benefits of dietary fibre relative to heart disease than stroke, but a new study from Sweden has firmly established that people who eat high fibre wholegrains regularly, have been shown to have lower risks of stroke, coronary heart disease, diabetes and some cancers, and also to have better weight control.

A separate study published in the American Heart Journal found that women with a history of heart disease who reported having eaten six or more servings of wholegrains per week were shown to have slower progression of atherosclerosis, a condition where built-up plaque narrows the arteries which direct blood to the heart.

Fibre has been shown to be beneficial as it can reduce LDL (bad) cholestereol levels in the blood stream, that can otherwise accumulate within the arteries. This blocks the flow of blood through the arteries and can affect the blood supply to the brain triggering a brain stroke.

The Swedish research used a large group of 26,000 male volunteers in the 50 – 70 years old age group, who were also smokers (which put them into a high risk category for developing a stroke), and lasted for 13 years. During this period, there were 3,000 reported incidences of stroke suffered by the study group, but the amazing fact emerged that the risk of stroke was nearly 20% lower amongst those in the group who had the most amount of dietary fibre in their diet.

Other research has indicated even greater benefits to those who eat four high fibre or wholegrain servings a day, as there are many other nutrients in whole grains – protein, vitamins and minerals  – that can give up to 40 per cent lower risk of stroke and heart disease compared with those who rarely eat wholegrain foods.

Many people will be surprised to discover that there is so much easy protection against the western world’s large killer available so easily, merely by altering their diet.

Wholegrains can be found in breakfast cereals made with wholegrains, oatmeal, brown rice, barley, popcorn, wholemeal bread and cereal, bran muffins and wholemeal flour.

Beware of some high fat home cooked food recipes

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‘Home cooked’ – the expression carries with it a reassuring tag of healthiness and goodness doesn’t it ?

We’ve all gotten used to the warnings about fast food and take out food being loaded with high levels of saturated fat and LDL cholesterol that is clogging up our arteries, and giving us more heart attacks and strokes.

However, cooking your own food using some traditional recipes may actually be as bad, or worse for your health and heart health, unless you look carefully at the quantity and type of all the ingredients.

What are the recommended daily fat intakes ?

The UK guidelines for daily fat intake are 70 grams for women and 95 grams for men. However, the unhealthy ‘bad’ type of fat – saturated fat – allowances are only 20 grams per day for women, and 30 grams for men.

Also it is recommended that your main meal of the day should provide only about a third of your total daily allowance of saturated fat. This equates to just over 6 grams for women and 10 grams for men.


You may be surprised to learn that many healthy-sounding home cooked recipes contain worryingly high levels of saturated fat if made as directed in the recipe books, and in most cases these amounts are not displayed in the recipe as is required by food manufacturing companies on the packaging of all processed foods.

Large portions just make the problem worse

Most people are surprised when presented with the evidence of their high daily fat consumption. It seems that we all think we are eating less fat than we actually are. The problem of the amount of fat expressed as a percentage of the weight of the ingredients is that if you eat larger portions you eat more fat !!
Meal portions have been steadily increasing in size since the 1950’s when food began to become less scarce following the shortages encountered during world war 2. Now we are used to expressions such as ‘go large’,’grab bag’ and ‘big eat’, ‘jumbo burger’ or ‘whopper’. This drives us to psychologically crave for more and more quantity of food with each meal that we eat.

How much saturated fat does the average ‘healthy family’ consume ?

We looked at two typical families in the UK, with Mum, Dad and two or three children. The Mum’s were committed to healthy eating and shopped for fresh ingredients which they used in their home cooking recipes to make meals such as  beef pie, fried chicken, Chilli, pizza and fish pie. When we analysed their average daily consumption of saturated fat (over a typical week) family 1 ate 16.7 grams of saturated fat per person per day. This is just for the one main meal and does not include any other meals. Family two were slightly healthier with 11.4 grams.

When presented with the evidence both families were shocked and surprised as they believed they were preparing healthy, fresh, home cooked meals which would positively benefit their family’s diet and health.

What you can do to make your home cooked meals more heart friendly ?

  • First know what quantities of fat your food will contain – always check the labels
  • Limit your portion sizes – especially red meat – try having a 6 ounce steak instead of an 8 or 10 ounce one
  • Substitute turkey mince for beef mince when cooking chilli or lasagne
  • Remove unnecessary fat from food during preparation. If you take a look at our recipe for heart healthy chilli con carne, or lamb jalfrezi for example, you can see how we remove most of the excess fat from the meat prior to cooking the recipe
  • If you’re buying minced beef – look for packages that have fewer white visible specks of fat
  • If you need to use additional fat in a recipe, try using duck fat, as this has less saturated fat than butter or lard
    If you can substitute hard fat. try using unsaturated cooking oils such as olive oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil or rapeseed oil
  • Avoid pastry as it is high in saturated fat
  • Substitute milk for cream in your recipes, and semi-skimmed milk for normal full cream milk where possible

Garlic and Onions can reduce Blood Pressure and Cholesterol

The evidence that garlic and onions – considered to be two of the most highly pungent vegetables goes back for centuries. In Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, both vegetables were used to treat heart disease. Clay models of garlic bulbs were found in an Egyptian tomb dated from 3750 BC!

Recent scientific studies show that preparations based on garlic and onion juice help to reduce blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure.


For instance – In a study carried out by Kempaiah & Srinivasan (2004) a group of rats were fed a saturated fat diet i.e. lipids containing three fatty acids which are proven to increase atherosclerosis risk.

Kempaiah & Srinivasan found that by introducing a regular addition of garlic and onion to the diet the increased levels of blood triglycerides in the rats decreased.

A diet rich in garlic helps to reduce the bad cholesterol known as LDL, but at the same time increases the good cholesterol known as HDL. Its powerful key ingredient – ‘allicin’ posesses anti-inflammatory properties that lower blood pressure and prevent bloods clots from forming, thus decreasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

The health properties in onions are equally beneficial in terms of increasing and decreasing good and bad cholesterol respectively. They also contain a compound known as ‘quercetin’ that is extremely powerful in the treatment and prevention of cancer.

How should I eat garlic and onion to maximise their benefits?

It is raw (uncooked) onion and garlic which contains the most powerful medicinal properties; some of which are destroyed in cooking, so you would be best trying to introduce them to your diet in their natural state. Some people couldn’t imagine eating these wonderful bulbs uncooked, but if you consider the possibility that if they had been invented by man – then you would probably be buying them as prescription drugs today!

I think that the best way to eat garlic raw is to add slices of it to a salad or a ready cooked dish such as a stir-fry. If you don’t like the taste of raw garlic – you can always chop it to pill size pieces and swallow it with a glass of water. Add sliced raw onions to your salad and sandwiches. You will be surprised how easy it is.

Note: 1 clove (not bulb!) of raw garlic per day is sufficient, and should not be consumed in large quantities.