According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Chicken Council, every year the average American consumes more than 108 pounds of red meat (beef, lamb, veal and pork). That includes 64 pounds of pork as ribs, chops, bacon and in processed meats (often loaded with harmful additives). That's a lot, but it's less than in the 1970s. In 1971, the average was 149.6 pounds per person, per year. Unfortunately, red meat consumption has started climbing back up recently. That's a serious problem, because red meat consumption threatens your health in ways you probably never imagined.
In a new 16-years-long observational study of more than 500,000 adults, researchers from the National Cancer Institute found that eating red and processed meats up the risk of dying from heart disease and cancer. But you probably already knew that (even if you ignore it!). That info has been in the news since a 2010 Harvard study nailed the red-meat-heart-disease connection and a 2015 study in The Lancet conducted by researchers from The International Agency for Research on Cancer pinned down the red-meat-cancer connection.
The new news? This latest research found that eating red meat also ups your risk of dying from respiratory diseases by more than 70 percent, and diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, infections, Alzheimer's disease and stroke by more than 15 percent. It gets you coming and going. There's no organ or system in your body that isn't negatively impacted by eating red meat.
What accounts for this beefy roundup of health woes? The researchers conjecture that it's related to two particularly damaging inflammatory triggers in red and processed meats: heme iron and nitrate/nitrite. Heme iron is associated with diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. It's also closely related to the metabolism of nitrate/nitrite (additives found in processed meats) and the formation of compounds that increase the risk of insulin resistance, coronary heart disease and cancer.
A WHITE FLAG
If you give up red and processed meats, you still have some healthy animal protein options. White meats—chicken, turkey (always skinless, please) and fish like salmon and ocean trout—don't seem to cause the health woes associated with eating red meats. In fact, the researchers found that folks who ate the most poultry and fish and dodged processed meats (including those that contained white meat) had a 25 percent reduction in their risk of all-cause mortality over the course of the study compared with folks who ate the least amount of white meats.
So where should you get your protein from? In addition to opting for two to four servings of fish such as salmon and trout weekly, and sticking with skinless poultry a couple of times a week (limit portions to 3-6 ounces), you can turn your attention to plant-based proteins that deliver all the muscle-building power you need, plus fiber and vitamins/minerals.
Conclusion: Eliminate red and processed meats from your diet, especially if you have heart disease or diabetes. Aim for seven to nine servings daily of fruits and veggies. Make sure to include beans, nuts and 100 percent whole grains. And embrace so-called white meats in moderation.
A GOOD IDEA
Consider trying Meatless Monday (the campaign is a joint effort of Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and other public health and academic/medical organizations) to get in the swing of it. The rest of the week, you can dish up a tofu taco for Tuesday lunch or wild mushroom soup on Wednesday night, tempting tempeh Thursday morning—you get the idea.
For recipes to inspire and nutritional info that will convince you plants deliver what you need, check out Sharecare.com. They have healthy recipes for everything from an avocado smoothie to easy vegetarian chili. Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials Recipes dish up grilled salmon and Thai Green Beans to live for! As you fight off that roster of serious health hazards, you'll gain healthier digestion, clearer skin and a younger RealAge.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into "The Dr. Oz Show" or visit sharecare.com.
(c) 2018 Michael Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet Oz, M.D.