Maybe DON’T Ask “Where’s the Beef?”

For many people, a cheeseburger tastes awesome. Others appreciate a delicious steak cooked just the way they like it. Beef is big business in our country and many people partake of it regularly.

But there may be a downside to enjoying it if your daily lifestyle habits aren’t exactly up to par. If you frequently indulge in red meat as your main source of protein, you could be shortening your life, according to a recent study in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Quoting lead researcher Dr. Mingyang Song, “We found protein from red meat, particularly processed red meat, is strongly associated with mortality”. Processed red meats (which include items like bacon, sausage and deli meats) contain loads of sodium and nitrates, which have been linked to heart disease and cancer. Also of concern are fatty cuts of red meat that carry with them loads of saturated fat, cholesterol and extra calories

So What’s The Beef With Beef?

For this study, Song and his colleagues analyzed data from two large U.S. studies that regularly tracked participants’ diets during as much as three decades of follow-up. The studies involved more than 131,000 whose daily calorie intake averaged 14 percent animal protein and 4 percent plant protein.

People who get more of their protein from plant sources had an overall lower risk of dying early than those who consumed a lot of animal protein, the researchers said. Several findings from the study that led to these conclusions included:

  • For every 3 percent increase in plant protein in their daily diet, participants experienced a 10 percent lower risk of death from all causes and a 12 percent lower risk of heart-related death, the investigators found.
  • Participants experienced a 2 percent increased risk of death from all causes and an 8 percent increased risk of heart-related death for every 10 percent increase of animal protein in their total daily calories.
  • Swapping 3 percent of calories from animal protein with plant protein lowered overall risk of premature death, based on the type of animal protein being substituted.
  • Risk of early death dropped 34 percent if people ate less processed red meat, 12 percent for less unprocessed red meat, and 19 percent for fewer eggs.

Your Daily Habits Count Too!

Also of interest was that the increased risk of death linked to animal protein only occurred in people with other unhealthy lifestyle traits, such as obesity, heavy drinking, smoking or lack of exercise, the study authors noted. Fortunately, the association disappeared in participants with a healthy lifestyle. Song said this is partly because health-conscious people tend to choose healthier sources of animal protein like fish and chicken, which are not typically associated with mortality.

The study found mixed results regarding eggs and dairy products, which were not as bad as processed or red meats but were not as good as chicken or fish, Song said.

If you’re looking to increase healthier plant proteins in your diet, your best sources would be choices like beans, legumes and nuts. Plant proteins tend to be healthier, containing lots of fiber, antioxidants, B-vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids and other good nutrients, but few calories and little to no saturated fat.

So No More Red Meat At All?

No, many people do not have to go to that extreme. What should be taken from the study is that it would be best to avoid a diet heavy in red meats, and processed meats should be avoided as much as possible. You should also try to add in some non-animal sources of protein as well for their added health benefits.

But an optimal diet for YOU may require more changes than in just one area. If you are struggling with poor energy, extra weight or issues like high blood pressure or cholesterol, your diet may be due for an overhaul. And why not now at the beginning of a new year?

The doctors at the Institute For Functional Health will work with you to create a diet that can help you hit your health goals. Certain health conditions can require specific dietary modifications, so having help from doctors who are experienced in this area will give you that extra advantage to ensure your success. Schedule a Discovery Day appointment at IFH to determine your needs and goals for a healthier, happier you!