Processed red meat increases risk of heart disease in men.

processedA study originating from the Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, points to red meat as the culprit for cardiovascular disease in men. The study is particularly relevant to the U.S. as almost 6 million Americans have heart failure and about 50 percent die within five years of diagnosis.

The research, published in the journal Circulation Heart Failure, examined the effects of processed red meat compared to unprocessed meat in 37,035 men 45-79 years old with no history of heart failure, ischemic heart disease or cancer. Research participants completed a questionnaire on food intake and other lifestyle factors and researchers followed them, for 12 years, from 1998 to the date of heart failure diagnosis, death or the end of the study in 2010.Processed meat questions focused on consumption of sausages, cold cuts (ham/salami), blood pudding/sausages and liver pate over the last year. Unprocessed meat questions covered pork and beef/veal, including hamburger or ground-minced meat.

Processed meats are preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding preservatives and include cold cuts (ham, salami), sausage, bacon and hot dogs.

“Processed red meat commonly contains sodium, nitrates, phosphates and other food additives, and smoked and grilled meats also contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, all of which may contribute to the increased heart failure risk,” said Alicja Wolk, D.M.Sc., senior author of the study and professor in the Division of Nutritional Epidemiology at the Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. “Unprocessed meat is free from food additives and usually has a lower amount of sodium.”

The findings reveal that heart failure was diagnosed in 2,891 men and 266 died from heart failure; with men who ate the most processed red meat (75 grams per day or more) revealing a 28 percent higher risk of heart failure compared to men who ate the least (25 grams per day or less) after adjusting for multiple lifestyle variables.

Men who ate the most processed red meat had a 50% increased risk of death from heart failure compared to men in the lowest category. The heart failure rate was dose dependent, depending on the amount of processed meat consumption. For each 50 gram (e.g. 1-2 slices of ham) increase in daily consumption of processed meat, the risk of heart failure incidence increased by 8 percent and the risk of death from heart failure by 38 percent.

“To reduce your risk of heart failure and other cardiovascular diseases, we suggest avoiding processed red meat in your diet, and limiting the amount of unprocessed red meat to one to two servings per week or less,” said Joanna Kaluza, Ph.D., study lead author and assistant professor in the Department of Human Nutrition at Warsaw University of Life Sciences in Poland. “Instead, eat a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grain products, nuts and increase your servings of fish.”


Joanna Kaluza, Agneta Åkesson, and Alicja Wolk. Processed and Unprocessed Red Meat Consumption and Risk of Heart Failure: A Prospective Study of Men. Circ Heart Fail., June 12 2014 DOI: 10.1161/CIRCHEARTFAILURE.113.000921

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