how red meat affects your body

Processed pork

In this blog post, I share the latest research on the consumption of red meat and the role it has on our health. I also provide alternatives to a red meat diet with vegetarian options.

The deal with Red Meat

In a few weeks, we will be celebrating our country’s independence, having BBQs and spending quality time with family and friends. But, as we are celebrating this summer holiday and serving tasty foods such as grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, it’s important to think about our food choices. The foods we consume can directly affect our health. In particular, I wanted to raise awareness of the health risks of red and processed meats as these are annual favorites for this holiday.

We’ve heard these foods get a bad rap, but what most people don’t know is exactly how bad they are. So, I wanted to share the real facts regarding red and processed meats relating to your health.

Before we dive into the research, it’s important to understand a few definitions.

Definitions of Meat

Red meat

Refers to unprocessed animal muscle meat such as beef, veal, pork, lamb. This term does not refer to seafood.

Processed meat

Meat that undergoes salting, curing, smoking, fermentation and others to improve taste and shelf life. Examples include hot dogs, sausages, bacon, ham, deli meats, and beef jerky. Some of these processes result in added compounds that have been found to be carcinogenic. Watch out for N-nitroso compounds (NOC) such as nitrosamines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). ​

Now, here is a quick review of the scientific literature regarding red and processed meats. ​


Risk Factors for Heart Disease and Type 2 Diabetes

In a study that surveyed over 1 million people, it examined how red meats and processed meats negatively impact our health. The study looked specifically whether or not red meat and/or processed meats were associated with two major health concerns. It reviewed if higher levels of coronary heart disease (CHD) and type 2 diabetes (DM2) were associated with red meat consumption. What they found was quite scary given the amount of meat our society consumes. They found that each daily serving of processed meats appeared to increase the risk of CHD by 42%! Unprocessed red meat was not associated with an increased risk of CHD by itself.

With regards to diabetes, the study was equally damning for processed meats. They found that each daily serving of processed meat, it increased your risk of diabetes by 19%. Once again, unprocessed red meats did not appear to significantly increase your risk.

what does this mean?

Therefore, the main conclusion from this study is:

1) Processed meat appears to be very detrimental to our health by increasing the risk for heart disease as well as diabetes.

2) Unprocessed red meat does not seem to carry the same risks.

Can red meat give you cancer?

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States for men and second most common for women. There are 135,000 new cases each year with nearly 50,000 people dying from this particular cancer in the US alone. A large study revealed that red meat and processed meat both were positively associated with colorectal, colon and rectal cancers.

The results showed that the more red or processed meat you ate the higher your risk was for colorectal cancer. The association was the strongest for processed meats, however red meat also was significantly associated with colon and colorectal cancers. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancers (IARC) held a meeting with top scientists to evaluate the carcinogenicity of red meats and processed meats. This group ultimately came down hard and classified processed meats as “carcinogenic to humans” on the basis of colorectal cancer.

They were slightly less strong with red meats labelling them as “probably carcinogenic to humans” for colorectal cancer and also prostate and pancreatic cancers. Some may argue that the IARC evaluations were not based on the “gold standard” randomized controlled trials. However, the data they did evaluate was substantial in size and scope and the findings were so consistent across studies that chance, bias and confounding (which are all risks in scientific studies) were considered to be very unlikely.

Bacon processed meat


Limit the intake of red meats, especially processed meats. Processed meats increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Both red and processed meats increase your risk of colorectal, colon and rectal cancers.

I am not suggesting that you shouldn’t indulge in the Fourth of July BBQ and skip the hot dog or hamburger line. However, I do recommend to at least give the negative health consequences some thought. In a society where we were all raised to consume meat and processed meat, my best advice is to cut back. In other words, reduce your intake of these foods today and in the future.

Instead of indulging in 2 hotdogs or hamburgers, opt for 1.  In the future, it is highly recommended to reduce meat and processed meat out of your regular diet, or limit them to once every 2-4 weeks or more.  

As a substitute for red and processed meats at your next BBQ, try instead grilling fresh seafood with a variety of summer vegetables. See our recipe for fish using cedar plank wood. Or, even better, check out the #1 rated diet in the world – the Mediterranean Diet.

What are your thoughts on limiting red meat?