A REALLY Bad Month to be a Butcher (Updated): New Data, Less Meat

I have said it before and I will say it again. Whenever data of high quality emerges that meat and animal products halt and reverse the #1 killer of men and women, cardiovascular disease (CVD), I will be obligated to present it to my patients as an option. Almost 60 years after the first clue to whole food plant-based diets as a therapy for CVD emerged, it remains an all plant approach. Even bigger than the risk of developing CVD is the issue of mortality. Does eating meat increased the risk of premature death? That is something most consumers would like to know.

In the last month, a number of studies from all corners of the world have been published that provide further clues to the support for the goal of replacing animal foods with plant foods as a plan to reduce CVD and overall mortality risk. Indeed, it was a REALLY bad month to be a butcher.

1) Adventist Health Study-2

The Adventist Health Study was established in 1958 after data indicated that residents of Loma Linda, California lived a decade or more on average than the rest of California. The study was to determine why this was the case. Loma Linda is now known as one of the 5 Blue Zones,or pockets of centenarian longevity, worldwide. Red meat consumption is lower on average in the Adventist community than in the rest of the US so researchers published data if trends in meat consumption related to mortality in a LOW meat consumption population. The findings in 72,149 study participants were that:

During a mean follow-up of 12 years, there were 7961 total deaths, of which 2598 were CVD deaths and 1873 were cancer deaths. Unprocessed red meat was associated with risk of all-cause mortality (HR: 1.18) and CVD mortality (HR: 1.26). Processed meat alone was not significantly associated with risk of mortality. The combined intake of red and processed meat was associated with all-cause mortality (HR: 1.23) and CVD mortality (HR: 1.34). These findings suggest moderately higher risks of all-cause and CVD mortality associated with red and processed meat in a low meat intake population. The figure above displays the results in graph form.

2) Harvard Meta-Analysis

Researchers at Harvard identified randomized clinical trials studying the effects of replacing red meat with a variety of other foods and published an analysis of 36 studies with 1,803 participants. The findings were that diets higher in high-quality plant protein sources such as legumes, soy, and nuts resulted in lower levels of both total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol compared to diets with red meat.

3) Global Burden of Disease Study

I have written previously of the recent publication by the Global Burden of Disease Study on dietary factors associated with death, a study that indicated that 22% of deaths worldwide, 11 million a year, are due to diet choices. Of the top 15 dietary factors in death, excess meat and processed meat were identified as risks. The consumption of meat was a less powerful predictor of death compared with inadequate whole grains, fruits, nuts and seeds, and vegetable intake.

4) Kuopio Finnish Heart Study

Since 1984 a group of men have been studied in Finland for the development of heart disease. An analysis of 2, 641 men was reported in terms of diet and risk of death in follow up. The findings were:

During the average follow-up of 22 years, 1,225 deaths due to disease occurred. Higher intakes of total protein and animal protein had borderline statistically significant associations with increased mortality risk: multivariable-adjusted HR in the highest compared with the lowest quartile for total protein intake = 1.17) and for animal protein intake = 1.13. Higher animal-to-plant protein ratio (extreme-quartile HR = 1.23) and higher meat intake (extreme-quartile HR = 1.23) were associated with increased mortality. When evaluated based on disease history at baseline, the association of total protein with mortality appeared more evident among those with a history of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or cancer (n = 1094) compared with those without disease history (n = 1547). Higher ratio of animal to plant protein in diet and higher meat intake were associated with increased mortality risk. Higher total protein intake appeared to be associated with mortality mainly among those with a predisposing disease.

5) U. K. BioBank: Diet and Rectal Cancer

Most of the previous studies on diet and colorectal cancer were based on diets consumed during the 1990s. Therefore, a database of 475, 581 subjects who filled out a short food-frequency questionnaire between 2006–2010 was studied. During an average of 6 years of follow-up, 2609 cases of colorectal cancer occurred. Participants who reported consuming an average of 76 g/day of red and processed meat compared with 21 g/day had a 20% higher risk of colorectal cancer. Participants in the highest fifth of intake of fiber from bread and breakfast cereals had a 14% lower risk of colorectal cancer. The conclusion was that consumption of red and processed meat was associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer.

6) Pan-European EPIC Cohort and Heart Disease

There is uncertainty about the relevance of animal foods to the etiology of CVD. A prospective study of 409,885 men and women in nine European countries was performed. Diet was assessed using validated questionnaires, calibrated using 24-hour recalls. Over 13 years, the hazard ratio for CVD was 1.19 for a 100 g/d increment in intake of red and processed meat. Consumption of red and processed meat was positively associated with serum non-HDL cholesterol concentration and systolic blood pressure. The conclusion was that the risk for CVD was positively associated with consumption of red and processed meat.

Overall, these 6 studies, drawing data from nearly 200 countries, support choices of eating exclusively or predominantly whole food, plant options such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, and reducing or eliminating meat entrees.

Some of the data were drawn from randomized clinical trials and some from prospective cohort studies, reflecting the difficulty of nutrition science, but the message is clear: beans not beef is the new black. Hug your butcher but do not spend your dollars there.