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Cardiovascular Disease


Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death globally, taking nearly 18 million lives each year. CVD refers to a class of diseases that involve the heart or blood vessels. It is a broad term that encompasses various conditions such as coronary heart disease (CHD), heart attacks, heart failure, and stroke. In the U.S., one person dies every 33 seconds from CVD.  


The consumption of red meat, particularly processed red meat, has been linked to an increased risk of CVD.


A study that observed 180,000 participants over a more than 10-year period found that, compared to the lowest frequency of red meat intake (< 1.5 times per week), the highest frequency (≥ 3.0 times per week) was associated with a 20% increased risk of CVD, a 53% increased risk of CHD, and a 101% increased risk of stroke mortality.  


Looking at just processed red meat, another study found that consuming 150 grams (slightly more than 5 ounces) or more a week increased the risk of CVD by 46% and the risk of death by 50% compared to eating no processed red meat. To give an idea of this amount, 5 ounces of processed red meat is equivalent to approximately:

  • Five slices of bacon

  • Less than two hot dogs

  • Five slices of deli meat (cut 1/8-inch thick)


A study from the University of Oxford found that consuming over 50 grams a day of unprocessed red meat (such as beef, lamb, and pork) and processed red meat (such as bacon, ham, and sausages) increased the risk of CHD by 9% and 18%, respectively.


Two other studies assessed red meat’s link to stroke. The first found that red meat and processed red meat consumption increased the risk of stroke by 13% and 17%, respectively. The second study, conducted by researchers at Harvard School of Public Health and the Cleveland Clinic, found that men who ate more than two servings of red meat daily had a 28% higher stroke risk than those who ate one-third of a serving each day.


A primary way red meat increases the risk of CVDs is via a chemical called Trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO). When red meat is digested by gut bacteria, the bacteria release TMAO. TMAO causes cholesterol to be deposited in the artery wall, especially in the heart. A second way red meat increases CVD risk related to red meat’s high saturated fat content. Saturated fat raises the level of the bad, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. It also promotes inflammation, raises blood pressure and blood sugar, and increases the risk of blood clots. 


The risk associated with red meat consumption can easily be mitigated by avoiding red meat, in favor of a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods, such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, and plant-based protein sources.






The sources for the information on this page can be found here.

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