Red Meat, Animal Fat, and Salt — Oh No! "SimpleCare"

There are a number of reasons why eating red meat animal fat and might be bad for your health. Red meat is loaded with cholesterol and saturated fat. The c…

Eating red meat increases your chances of dying prematurely. That’s the stark finding of a very large and very well done clinical study just published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The study found that eating red and processed meat was associated with increases in total mortality, cancer mortality, and cardiovascular disease mortality. They found that eating just 4 ounces of red meat a day raises your overall risk of dying prematurely, raises your risk of dying from cancer and raises your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. I’d say that means it’s time to decrease your consumption of red meat, which includes beef, pork and processed meats like sausage, bacon and cold cuts.

There are a number of reasons why eating red meat might be bad for your health. Red meat is loaded with cholesterol and saturated fat. The cooking of red meat produces cancer-causing compounds. Red meat contains a lot of iron, which is believed to promote cancer growth. Processed meats contain a variety of cancer-causing chemicals. Eating red meat is associated with high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol, which in turn increase the risk of heart and cardiovascular disease.

You don’t have to eliminate red meat entirely. Instead, you should avoid eating it every day. According to Dr. Walter Willet, chairman of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, who was quoted in The Washington Post, “You can be very healthy being a vegetarian, but you can be very healthy being a non-vegetarian if you keep your red-meat intake low,” Willett said. “If you are eating meat twice a day and can cut back to once a day there’s a big benefit. If you cut back to two or three times a week there’s even more benefit. If you eliminate it entirely, there’s a little more benefit, but the big benefit is getting away from everyday red-meat consumption.”

Why is Saturated Fat Harmful?

In simple terms, saturated fat is a major risk factor for heart attacks and strokes. It’s worth remembering that the body can manufacture its own saturated fat so we don’t actually need to include ANY saturated fat in our diet.

The full story about saturated fat and heart disease is very complex and much of it remains a mystery.

Saturated Fat & Cholesterol – Only Part of the Story

We know that diets high in saturated fat (or high-glycemic index carbs) lead to an increased production of acetate fragments in the body, which usually raise the production of cholesterol.

But increased cholesterol is only part of the story. Although we know that cholesterol is the main component of arterial plaque – the stuff causes a narrowing of arteries [atherosclerosis] we don’t know exactly what causes arterial blockages, or why some people who eat large amounts of saturated fat have comparatively healthy arteries.

HDL/LDL Cholesterol

Part of the explanation for the development of atherosclerosis is to be found in the body’s levels of low-density lipoproteins (known as LDL cholesterol) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL cholesterol).

In fact, neither LDL Cholesterol nor HDL cholesterol is actually cholesterol per se. They are cholesterol-transporters.

In simple terms, low-density lipoproteins ferry cholesterol from the liver to the tissues. If there is too much cholesterol for the tissues to receive, the LDL transporters start dumping it in the arteries.

High-density lipoproteins are the good guys. Their main function is to ‘sweep up’ the excess cholesterol and return it to the liver for disposal.

Which explains (in part) why the more LDL cholesterol and the less HDL cholesterol we have, the more likely we are to suffer from narrowing of the arteries.

In other words, it’s not total cholesterol – it’s the relative levels of LDL vs. HDL cholesterol we have, that causes increased risk of heart attacks.

For example, oily fish is relatively high in saturated fat, but it also contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which help to raise HDL levels and thus reduce the risk of atherosclerosis.

Many unanswered Questions About Heart Disease

To what extent is diet responsible for heart disease? Is narrowing of the arteries [atherosclerosis] partly the result of bacterial infection? Can the consumption of other fats reduce the risks of heart attacks and strokes? What role does vitamin C play in reducing the risk of atherosclerosis? How dangerous are refined cards for a healthy heart? These questions, and many more like them, remain unanswered.

Saturated Fat – Bottom Line

For the moment, current dietary opinion on a healthy fat-intake for healthy adults suggests:

  • Maintain a modest intake of total fat (25-30 percent of calories).
  • Include regular amounts of omega-3 fat in your diet.
  • Reduce your intake of saturated fat (maximum 1/3 of total fat intake).
  • Eat less margarine and other processed fats.
  • Reduce your intake of refined carbs.

What conclusion has the medical community come to regarding high-sodium diets?

The medical community has reached a consensus that diets high in sodium are a major cause of high blood pressure as well as pre-hypertension, or blood pressure just short of high blood pressure. Thissignificantly increases the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

About how many Americans suffer from high blood pressure and pre-hypertension?

Today roughly 65 million Americans have hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, and another 45 million have pre-hypertension.  Blood pressures greater than 140/90 are considered hypertension, while those between 120/80 and 140/90 are considered to be pre-hypertension.  Ninety percent of Americans will ultimately develop hypertension unless preventive actions are taken.

Looking at the bigger picture, each year 700,000 Americans die of heart disease and more than 160,000 die of stroke. Blood pressure levels greater than 120/80 are a major cause of these diseases. The risks of heart attack, congestive heart failure, stroke, and end-stage kidney disease increase progressively as blood pressure levels rise above normal levels.

Unfortunately, a lifetime of eating too much salt is putting Americans lives in jeopardy.

And sodium is a major cause of high blood pressure, more so than obesity or other factors?

Although obesity and other factors also contribute to hypertension, excessive sodium intake is one of the most important causes and the cause most amenable to a public health solution. There is a clear relationship between habitual sodium intake and blood pressure.  A landmark randomized clinical trial, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Sodium study demonstrated this. The study randomized participants either to the DASH eating plan, which is high in fruits, vegetables and fiber and low in fat, or to the usual American diet.

Individuals ate their respective diets at three sodium levels: high (3,300 mg), intermediate (2,400 mg) and low (1,500 mg). A teaspoon of salt contains roughly 2,400 mg of sodium. Reducing sodium from the high level to the low level lowered blood pressure by 8.3/4.4 mm Hg in people with high blood pressure and by 5.6/2.8 mm HG in people with normal blood pressure.

Blood pressure reductions such as those would have major impacts on mortality as well as on the occurrence of disabling disease. This could result in fewer deaths from stroke and coronary heart disease.

How much sodium does the average American consume on a daily basis?

Unfortunately, American adults ingest nearly 4,000 mg of sodium daily on average, far exceeding current recommendations.

What are the current recommendations?

The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization have all supported lowering daily sodium intake to no more than 2,400 mg and some of those agencies have said that many people should consume less than 1,500 mg.

Adults who are middle-aged, elderly, already have hypertension or pre-hypertension, or who have a family history of hypertension should consume less than 1,500 mg.

What is the main culprit of the high salt content in foods?

Roughly 75 percent of the daily sodium intake of the U.S. population comes from salt in processed and restaurant foods. Only 10 percent comes from foods natural content. That makes it extremely difficult for consumers to follow a low-sodium diet.

Why does that make it so difficult?

Because many canned and frozen foods contain 1,000 mg or more of sodium in an eight-ounce serving. Consumers must read food labels very carefully to select lower sodium products. Often such products are difficult to find or cost more.

Restaurant meals, which are not labeled, often contain 3,000 mg of sodium or more, added without the consumer’s knowledge.

Given those challenges, how can people reduce their salt intake? What are some good tips people can follow to consume less sodium on a daily basis

  • Making recipes from scratch will allow you to avoid much of the salt in your diet
  • If you do buy any processed foods in the supermarket, select ones that are the lowest in sodium. Products that are labeled (sodium free) or ones that have less than 100 mg per serving are the best.
  • When you go to a restaurant, ask them to prepare your food without adding any salt and to use other spices instead. Most restaurants will agree to do this or will suggest items for which they will do this.
  • Avoid salting your food.
  • Use spices other than salt when cooking. Examples include pepper, basil, thyme, garlic.
  • Choose snacks low in sodium like fruits and vegetables. Avoid salty snacks such as pretzels and potato chips.

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