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Eat Less Red Meat, Cut Heart Attack Risk

Cutting Back on Red or Processed Meats Reduces Risk of Heart Disease in Women, Study Finds

By Bill Hendrick
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Elizabeth Klodas, MD, FACC

Aug. 16, 2010 -- Cutting back on red and processed meats may significantly reduce heart disease risk in women, a new study says.

Scientists examined data on 84,136 women between the ages of 30 and 55 over a 26-year period ending in 2006. The women were participants in a research project known as the Nurses' Health Study. Researchers examined medical histories and lifestyle choices of the women, including dietary habits obtained via detailed questionnaires.

This study differs from previous analyses in that the follow-up period was long, repeated dietary questionnaires were administered over the course of the study, and the impact of substituting protein alternatives in place of red meat was evaluated.

During the study period, 2,210 non-fatal heart attacks and 952 deaths from coronary disease occurred.

The study found that women who had two servings per day of red meat had a 30% greater risk of developing heart disease compared to women who had half a serving daily.

"Our study shows that making substitutes for red meat or minimizing the amount of red meat in the diet has important health benefits," Adam M. Bernstein, MD, ScD, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, says in a news release.

Poultry, fish, and nuts may be healthy substitutes because those foods were associated with important decreases in the development of coronary heart disease.

Study Findings

Among the study findings:

  • Women who reported eating one serving of nuts per day were 30% less likely to develop coronary artery disease.
  • Women who said they ate fish on a daily basis had a 24% lower risk.
  • Women in the study who said they ate one serving of poultry per day had a 19% lower risk of heart disease.
  • Women who reported consuming low-fat dairy products daily had a 13% lower risk of developing coronary heart disease.

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

Bernstein notes that though the study included only women, its findings most likely apply to men, too.

"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," Bernstein says in the news release.

The study is published in the August 2010 issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

SOURCES: News release, American Heart Association.

Bernstein, A. Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, August 2010.

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