Should I Cut Meat From My Diet?

Recent studies put meat in a bad light

Closeup of grilled beef fillets

Research on meat-rich diets seems to repeatedly suggest cutting back on eating meat, but that doesn’t mean you have to eliminate it from your plate entirely.

Advertising Policy

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

How often do you eat meat?

A study on the health effects of meat-rich diets appears in the June 3 online edition of JAMA Internal Medicine. For the Adventist Health Study 2, researchers collected data from a pool of middle-aged Seventh-day Adventists, a group with historically lower rates of cardiovascular disease than the general population.

CARNIVAL Research Study

If you are 18 years or older, and are in general good health you may be eligible for this research study.

Dr. Hazen and his team are currently recruiting for a study to investigate the role of gut flora in all types of diets, including vegetarians, vegans and omnivores (individuals who eat meat and plant foods). For more information and participant requirements, call 216.445.1174.

Advertising Policy

Participants answered questions about their eating habits and were then categorized according to their answers about how often they ate meat. Then, data was collected in subsequent years about how many in each group died from ischemic heart disease or cardiovascular disease.

The study’s findings gave yet again more support to the idea that in general, a more vegetarian dietary pattern may be associated with reduced mortality and increased longevity and could be useful in creating dietary guidelines for the public.

More bad news for meat lovers

Before the Adventist study was published, Stanley Hazen, MD, PhD, Vice Chair of Translational Research for Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute and Section Head of Preventive Cardiology & Rehabilitation, published his ground-breaking findings about a possible causal link between red meat and atherosclerosis (clogged blood vessels).

New kid on the block…carnitine

Dr. Hazen and his team discovered that in addition to cholesterol and saturated fat, a newly recognized substance in red meat that contributes to heart disease risks, is an amino acid called carnitine, which is particularly abundant in red meat. Carnitine’s metabolic end product, trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO), has proven links to atherosclerosis. The team showed in 2,595 subjects that elevated blood levels of carnitine predicted increased risk of heart attack, stroke and death. Further, in animal studies a diet rich in carnitine led to increased TMAO and atherosclerosis

Advertising Policy

Dr. Hazen’s data suggests that carnitine contributes to red meat’s association with heart disease by changing cholesterol metabolism, which along with saturated fat are generally regarded as the primary culprits of heart disease.

Take a modest approach

Dr. Hazen stresses that although the Adventist study raises good points, it has limitations. “The new study is interesting. But it needs to be interpreted cautiously as it is observational. It certainly adds to the substantial body of data arguing that reduction in red meat consumption, particularly to a more modest level, is probably a heart-healthy approach. But one also has to recognize that Adventists likely have additional ‘heart healthy’ lifestyle habits that were not statistically accounted for and may contribute to the substantial health benefits observed in this cohort.”

In other words, search for a healthy balance

Rather than taking an all-or-nothing approach to meat in your diet, you can opt for a nutritious diet that limits the amount of red meat eaten and focuses mainly on fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean protein. Dr. Hazen also advises that in addition to a diet low in red meat consumption, a routine exercise or walking program are excellent ways to help lower heart disease risks.