From Featuring Dr Chris Steele MBE

Cutting out red meat can lower heart attack rates

Switching to fish, poultry and other proteins significantly reduces risk

A new study which tracked the eating habits of American women over a 26 year period has found that those who ate the most red meat had the greatest risk of heart disease. Two or more servings a day resulted in a 30% increase in the risk of developing coronary heart disease compared to those women who only ate red meat every other day.

On a more positive note, the study found that regularly eating other sources of protein had a beneficial effect on heart health. Compared to women who ate red meat once per day, the survey found:

"Our study shows that making substitutes for red meat or minimizing the amount of red meat in the diet has important health benefits," said study lead author Adam M. Bernstein.

"There are good protein-rich sources that do not involve red meat," Dr Bernstein said. "You don’t need to have hot dogs, hamburgers, Bolognese or pastrami, which are all fresh or processed meats."

About the study

The study is part of a larger general health study called the Nurses’ Health Study in which the lifestyles and health histories of nearly 85,000 woman aged 30 to 55 were tracked between 1980 and 2006.

Researchers tracked the medical history and lifestyles of these women, including diet, for 26 years. Detailed dietary information included a 61-item food frequency questionnaire, which researchers later expanded to 116 items.

Nurses were asked how often they had consumed a unit or portion of each food on average during the previous year. Nine possible responses included from "never" to "more than six times daily."

In the course of the study researchers documented 2,210 non-fatal heart attacks and 952 deaths from coronary heart disease.

Commenting on the results, Dr Bernstein noted: "Although this study included only women, our overall knowledge of risk factors for heart disease suggests that the findings are likely to apply to men as well. Those who are concerned and want to reduce their risk of heart disease should consider replacing red meat with other protein-rich foods including fish, poultry, low-fat dairy products and nuts."

The study was conducted by researchers from the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

This article was published on Tue 17 August 2010