A meaty debate: Can red meat be part of a healthful diet?

Small amounts of red meat are fine, when part of a plant-based diet

Eat red meat sparingly, avoid processed meat.

The World Health Organization classifies processed meats as carcinogens and says red meat is probably a carcinogen. Our cancer nutritionists recommend eating only small amounts of red meat, and avoiding processed meats.


With all the focus on a plant-based diet for overall health and reduction of cancer risk, and recent media hype reporting red and processed meat cause cancer, meat lovers are left to wonder if their favorite foods are still allowed.

The WHO (World Health Organization’s) International Agency for Research on Cancer just released its analysis of the literature to date and concluded red meat and processed meat are likely carcinogenic, or cancer-causing foods. They cited a 17% – 18% increased risk of colorectal cancer with as little as two ounces of processed meat or four of ounces red meat per day. Continue reading

Is red meat unhealthy for your heart?

U-M healthcare providers weigh in on study showing connection between red meat and heart failure

meat blogA study out of Cleveland Clinic, recently reported in Journal of the American College of Cardiology, seems to answer the question “Is red meat unhealthy for your heart?”–until you look a little more closely. The study found a strong association between TMAO (trimethylamine oxidase) and severity of heart failure, including an increased risk of death in patients with high TMAO levels. TMAO is a digestion byproduct of bacteria that can live in peoples’ intestines, and has previously been linked to increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Foods such as red meat and eggs are the most common sources of TMAO in the diet.

A look at the study

Some who read this study might be quick to say that heart failure patients should eat less red meat and eggs. However, since the authors did not look at food intake, it is difficult say for sure how TMAO levels in this study related to the dietary patterns of the patients. Some researchers believe that the walls of the intestine become ‘leaky’ when severe heart failure causes fluid congestion there. These leaky walls could let bacteria or their byproducts, like TMAO, into the bloodstream to cause problems. While patients with high TMAO levels in this study were on average older and sicker, most did not appear to have truly severe heart failure. Continue reading