World Heart Health Day should highlight the importance of eating less red meat
New study shows that red meat could increase risk of cardiovascular disease by 22%.
The World Health Organization says that cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the leading cause of death globally, and a study released last month by the Massachusetts’ Tufts University and the Cleveland Clinic has shown a strong correlation between red meat and heart disease. Both these points are particularly noteworthy in the week of World Heart Health Day (29 September).
The observational research project by Massachusetts’ Tufts University and the Cleveland Clinic (published in the peer-reviewed journal, Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology) found that a single serving of red meat could increase the risk of cardiovascular disease by 22%.
Interestingly, when this study data was scrutinised to find the correlation between red meat and CVDs, one of the most viable explanations was the impact of red meat on the gut microbiome. The digesting of red meat by gut bacteria produces metabolites in our blood. This ties into another study that showed how metabolites contribute to CVD and the risk of strokes.
Says the research team from the Tufts study, “The interplay between diet, the gut microbiota, and microbial-generated metabolites increasingly appear to be a novel pathway linking [animal-source foods], especially red meat, to cardiovascular health.”
“The link between eating less meat and better health is well documented and widely understood, but the growing realisation of the negative impact that red meat has on gut health is very interesting,” says Tammy Fry founder of Meat Free Mondays in South Africa and plant-based nutritionist. “We know that it’s so much more than just making sure your diet has enough fibre.”
Tammy’s viewpoint is shared by registered dietitian, Aziwe Booi who is a firm believer in the health benefits of reducing meat and eating more plants. “Plant-based proteins are without doubt better for your gut and your overall health and wellbeing.”
Aziwe has had success in helping her clients transition to a reduced-meat diet. “While the idea of introducing meat-free meals can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be all or nothing,” she says. “There are a multitude of ways to incorporate more plant proteins into a diet without feeling deprived. I recommend exploring meat-free Mondays to start, but using tried and tested family favourite meals. Meat can easily be substituted with alternatives like plant-based mince, sausages, chicken or burgers which are tasty and just as easy to prepare. I prefer products that are non-GM like Fry’s, but there are many to choose from. Meat alternatives tend to be naturally cholesterol free and higher in fibre than their meaty counterparts.”
Data shows us that despite South Africa being a very meat-centric country (currently SA ranks 9th highest for beef and 11th highest for poultry consumption per capita, globally) South Africans are starting to explore the idea of swopping some of their meals for meat-free options – many of them for health reasons.
A study by KLA showed that a quarter of South African consumers wanted to eat less meat – 47% of them specifically for health reasons. While in 2021, local Credence Institute and US-based North Mountain Consulting Group collaborated to find out whether South Africans would explore eating less traditional meat. Their findings were interesting – 67% said they were likely to try plant-based meat, while 59% said they were likely to purchase it.
“In the work I do in the plant-based nutrition space I have seen so many people make radical changes to their health simply by adding one or two meat-free days to their diets,” says Tammy. “I always say the trick is to keep it simple – start with just one day a week. Load your plate up with fruits and veggies, try to get a few days of exercise a week, eight hours of sleep a night and eight glasses of water a day. The difference can be astounding, and as the data shows, a powerful way to help keep your heart healthy.”
Issued on behalf of the Fry Family Food Co.