Is Advice to Limit Red Meat Consumption Wrong?

By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

April 20, 2020

I’ll never tell my patients to completely give up red meat. But I do caution them…

Once a week you can have some clean free range, organic red meat. More than that and you’re asking for trouble.

Now, recent news headlines are starting to preach a different story. And I don’t like what I’m seeing.

An article recently displayed this controversial headline: “No need to reduce red or processed meat consumption.” The concept has become a media darling.

Their general point is that there is “no good evidence” eating red meat and processed meat is bad for you. They say, “Go ahead! Keep eating as much steak, burgers, bacon and deli sandwiches as you want.”

No matter how you slice it, it’s still a bunch of baloney.

If you’ve done a little digging like I have, you know this assessment is flawed.

First off, the analysis they are citing did NOT deny that eating less red meat is healthier.

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In fact, three of the systematic reviews the panel analyzed actually found that lowering your intake of red and processed meats reduces the risk of early death from cardiovascular disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes.

So what’s the deal here?

Well, the panel admitted that eating red and processed meat is associated with disease and early death. But they decided the quality of evidence was “too low” to recommend reducing consumption.

And they didn’t use acceptable criteria or common sense to make this determination. Instead, they used a grading system typically reserved for randomized-controlled drug trials.

You simply cannot use this method when it comes to observational studies on meat intake. There are too many other lifestyle, dietary and environmental factors that have to be considered. It just doesn’t work.

The biggest surprise of all was the inclusion of a review on meat preferences. In general, this paper concluded that meat eaters enjoy meat and won’t change their eating habits, even if they know their health is at risk.

When you boil all of this down, the story is quite different than what the headlines are saying.

Here are their findings in a nutshell:

  • Eating less red and processed meat lowers the risk of disease and early death,
  • But the evidence for this isn’t of the same quality as a tightly controlled drug trial,
  • And – since people just LOVE eating meat – the benefits of avoiding it don’t outweigh your desire.
  • So, it’s okay to keep eating it.

Do you see the flawed thinking here?

Let’s Re-examine the Link Between Red Meat and Disease

Study after study has clearly identified the contribution of red and processed meats to death and illness.

For example, increasing your red meat intake by a half a serving per day increases your risk of early death by 9% over the next eight years. An extra half serving each day of processed meat increases the risk by 13%.

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And, by the way, when you swap out one serving of meat each day with a serving of fish, it actually reduces your risk of death over the next eight years by 17%.

One of the key risks that come with red meats is increased levels of trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO). This compound is produced when the bacteria in your gut chomp down on the carnitine, lecithin and choline found in red meat.

And it’s bad news.

TMAO makes your blood “sticky”. This means it is more likely to form clots and blockages. This, of course, greatly increases your risk of suffering a heart attack or stoke… or death. It actually kicks your chances of a cardiovascular event up by about 23%.

The link between TMAO and diabetes may be even stronger. In recent years we’ve discovered that higher levels of this compound are associated with an average of 89% higher odds of developing new onset type 2 diabetes.

TMAO is also implicated in the development of gastrointestinal cancers. Simply put, it produces byproducts that appear to damage DNA and potentially even change the way your genes are expressed. (But not in a good way.)

So, please!

Take the recent headline news claiming that red and processed meat isn’t bad for you with a grain of salt.

Limit all animal proteins, including red meat, to 15% or less of your diet. And when you do choose to enjoy a steak, burger or roast, select lean cuts from grass-fed cattle or bison.


Johnston BC, et al. Unprocessed Red Meat and Processed Meat Consumption: Dietary Guideline Recommendations From the Nutritional Recommendations (NutriRECS) Consortium. Ann Intern Med. 2019 Oct 1. [Epub ahead of print]

Vernooij RWM, et al. Patterns of red and processed meat consumption and risk for cardiometabolic and cancer outcomes. A systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies. Ann Intern Med. 1 October 2019 [Epub ahead of print].

Han MA, et al. Reduction of red and processed meat intake and cancer mortality and incidence. A systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies. Ann Intern Med. 1 October 2019 [Epub ahead of print].

Zeraatkar D, et al. Red and processed meat consumption and risk for all-cause mortality and cardiometabolic outcomes. A systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies. Ann Intern Med. 1 October 2019 [Epub ahead of print].

Zeraatkar D, et al. Effect of lower versus higher red meat intake on cardiometabolic and cancer outcomes. A systematic review of randomized trials. Ann Intern Med. 1 October 2019 [Epub ahead of print].

Assaf AR, et al. Low-Fat Dietary Pattern Intervention and Health-Related Quality of Life: The Women’s Health Initiative Randomized Controlled Dietary Modification Trial. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016 Feb;116(2):259-71.

Valli C, et al. Health-related values and preferences regarding meat consumption. A mixed-methods sys- tematic review. Ann Intern Med. 1 October 2019 [Epub ahead of print].

Zheng Y, et al. Association of changes in red meat consumption with total and cause specific mortality among US women and men: two prospective cohort studies. BMJ. 2019 Jun 12;365:l2110.

Zhuang R, et al. Gut microbe–generated metabolite trimethylamine N‐oxide and the risk of diabetes: A systematic review and dose‐response meta‐analysis. Obesity Reviews. 2019; 20: 883– 894.

Shan Z, et al. Association between microbiota-dependent metabolite trimethylamine-N-oxide and type 2 diabetes. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017 Sep;106(3):888-894.

Leustean AM, et al. Implications of the Intestinal Microbiota in Diagnosing the Progression of Diabetes and the Presence of Cardiovascular Complications. J Diabetes Res. 2018; 2018: 5205126.

Oellgaard J, et al. Trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) as a New Potential Therapeutic Target for Insulin Resistance and Cancer. Curr Pharm Des. 2017;23(25):3699-3712.

Wang Z, et al. Non-lethal Inhibition of Gut Microbial Trimethylamine Production for the Treatment of Atherosclerosis. Cell. 2015 Dec 17;163(7):1585-95.

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