Red meat is a major source of medium- and long-chain saturated fatty acids, which may lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Processed meat, which has been modified to improve taste or extend its shelf-life, has also been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Dietary guidelines therefore recommend limiting the consumption of both red and processed meat based on studies that have linked them to higher risks of cardiovascular disease. These studies, however, have come primarily from populations in North America and Europe, limiting their global applicability.
Published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN), "Associations of Unprocessed and Processed Meat Intake with Mortality and Cardiovascular Disease in 21 countries (PURE): A Prospective Cohort Study," has helped to rectify a major research gap, helping us better understand the global health impact of meat and meat product consumption.
Evidence of an association between meat intake and cardiovascular disease is inconsistent. We therefore wanted to better understand the associations between intakes of unprocessed red meat, poultry, and processed meat with major cardiovascular disease events and mortality."
Dr. Romaina Iqbal, Study First Author
In order to conduct their research, the authors of this study worked with data from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiological (PURE) study, a long-term study launched in 2003 by Dr. Salim Yusuf, Director of Population Health Research Institute, Canada, and Principal Investigator of the PURE study.
The PURE study has tracked the dietary habits and health outcomes of more than 164,000 participants from 21 low-, middle-, and high-income countries across five continents.
According to Dr. Mahshid Dehghan, one of the study's authors and Investigator at the Population Health Research Institute of McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences, "the PURE study is the first multinational study that provides information on the association between unprocessed and processed meat intakes with health outcomes from low- and middle-income countries.
Moreover, the PURE study examines substantially more diverse populations and broad patterns of diet, enabling us to provide new evidence."
Participants' dietary habits were recorded via the use of food frequency questionnaires. In addition, data was collected on participants' mortality and major cardiovascular disease events, enabling the study authors to determine the associations between meat consumption patterns and cardiovascular disease events and mortality.
Upon completing their analysis, the study authors "did not find significant associations between unprocessed red meat and poultry intake with mortality or major cardiovascular disease." By contrast, processed meat intake was associated with higher risks of total mortality and major cardiovascular disease.
The authors believe that additional research may enhance our current understanding of the relationship between meat consumption and health outcomes. For example, it isn't clear what study participants with lower meat intakes were eating instead of meat, and if the quality of those foods differed between countries.
These substitutions may have implications in further interpreting the associations between meat consumption and health outcomes. Nonetheless, the authors believe their findings "indicate that limiting the intake of processed meat should be encouraged."
Iqbal, R., et al. (2021) Associations of unprocessed and processed meat intake with mortality and cardiovascular disease in 21 countries [Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) Study]: a prospective cohort study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqaa448.