In a bid to investigate the link between meat, poultry, fish and the risk of cardiovascular disease and death, scientists analysed long-term dietary and health outcome data of 30,000 US adults and found that people who ate two or more servings of processed meat or red meat per week faced a slightly higher risk of death.

And eating two or more serves of red meat, processed meat or poultry per week was associated with a higher risk — an increase of between 3 and 7 per cent — of developing cardiovascular disease.

The higher the intake of meat, the higher the risk. However, the researchers said the link between poultry and heart disease, which has not previously been found, may be due to frying the meat or eating the skin.

People who regularly ate fish, on the other hand, did not have an increase in cardiovascular disease or premature death.

Clare Collins, a professor of nutrition and dietetics at the University of Newcastle, said although the absolute risk of developing heart disease or dying was low (less than 2 per cent), it was important to consider the findings at a population level.

“This paper provides support for moderating your unprocessed and red meat intake, while eating fish more often,” she said.

The results of the study are largely in keeping with other nutrition research, and add to an evidence base that red meat and processed meat are linked to a higher risk of chronic disease and death.

“People should get most of their heart-healthy protein from plant sources such as beans, lentils and tofu, as well as fish and seafood, with a smaller amount from eggs and lean poultry,” Heart Foundation chief medical advisor Garry Jennings told the ABC.

The study, while based on a reasonably large data set, had several key limitations.

First, researchers did not measure cooking methods, which may have affected the health risks associated with poultry (for example, the association may be related to poultry that includes fried chicken).

Second, participants’ diets were only measured at one point over a 30-year period, and therefore may not reflect their long-term dietary intake.

Several major health bodies complained that research was flawed, including Harvard University’s TH Chan School of Medicine, which labelled it “irresponsible and unethical” and warned it sent confusing messages to consumers.

“A single picture of what someone reports eating ignores the fact that many people change their diet over the years,” said Rosemary Stanton OAM, nutritionist and visiting fellow at the University of New South Wales.

The take-home message from the latest study, Ms Stanton said, is that no single food is going to determine the overall healthiness of diet or subsequent health.

“However, from this and many other analyses, it’s wise to limit consumption of red and processed meats, and probably chicken,” she said.

“For heart health, fish and seafood impose no apparent risk. This all fits with existing dietary guidelines.”


REFERENCE: Zhong et al:  Associations of Processed Meat, Unprocessed Red Meat, Poultry, or Fish Intake With Incident Cardiovascular Disease and All-Cause Mortality;