Objective: The objective of this study was to examine the association between red meat consumption and risk of stroke in 40,291 Swedish men over a 10 year follow-up period.
Methods: All men filled out a 96 item food frequency questionnaire that assessed usual diet. This enabled the researchers to compute total red meat, fresh red meat, and processed red meat consumption for the analysis. Fresh red meat was considered minced pork, beef, or veal. Processed red meat was considered sausage, hot dogs, salami, ham, and processed cold cuts. Total red meat was the sum of fresh red meat and processed red meat.
Results: After 10 years of follow up, there were 2,409 new cases of stroke among these men. Men who consumed more than 2 ounces of processed red meat per day had a 23% increased risk of stroke when compared to men consuming less than ¾ ounce of processed red meat per day. Fresh red meat was not associated with risk of stroke. Total red meat was associated with a borderline significant 15% increased risk of stroke when comparing men who consumed the most red meat (greater than 5 ounces per day) to men who consumed the least (less than 2 ounces per day).
Discussion: A number of studies have recently shown that fresh red meat is not as strongly associated with risk of cardiovascular disease as once thought. Processed red meat, on the other hand, is strongly associated with risk of heart disease and stroke. It is believed that the high levels of nitrates and sodium in the processed red meat are the mechanism behind the increased risk.
Take Home Message: It seems like the problem with red meat largely lies in the processing. I tell my clients to limit portions of red meat to once per week. Choosing lean and fresh sources of red meat like filet mignon and lean hamburger is a good idea. Strictly limit the processed red meats like bacon, sausage, hot dogs and fatty deli meats. Keep in mind that red meat has also been associated with colon cancer incidence so don’t go overboard with the red meat consumption.