Inflammation is a risk factor for many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease (CVD), and the role of nutrition in inflammation is receiving scientific attention. Recommendations to decrease red meat consumption, for instance, are frequently based, in part, on outdated studies demonstrating that red meat adversely affects inflammation – despite the fact that more recent studies have not supported this notion.
“The role of diet, including red meat, on inflammation and disease risk has not been adequately studied, which can lead to public health recommendations that are not based on strong evidence,” expressed Dr. Alexis Wood, associate professor of pediatrics – nutrition at the USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital. “Our team aimed to examine the matter more closely by utilizing metabolite data in the blood, which can establish a more direct connection between diet and health.”
Wood and her colleagues examined cross-sectional data from approximately 4,000 older individuals who participated in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), and their findings were recently released in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Cross-sectional data is a valuable source of evidence on the impact of nutrition on health as it involves data collected from free-living individuals without attempting to modify their normal lifestyle. Consequently, it might be easier to apply the findings of such investigations in non-research settings. Along with self-reported food intake and numerous indicators, researchers assessed a variety of dietary intake metabolites in blood. Plasma metabolites can help detect the effects of dietary intake as it is metabolized, digested, and absorbed.
Researchers discovered that after adjusting for body mass index (BMI), consumption of unprocessed and processed red meat (beef, pork or lamb) was not directly linked to any markers of inflammation, suggesting that body weight, not red meat, may be the underlying cause of increased systemic inflammation. Of particular interest was the absence of a connection between red meat intake and C-reactive protein (CRP), the primary inflammatory risk marker for chronic diseases.
“Our analysis adds to the expanding body of evidence indicating the importance of measuring plasma markers, such as metabolites, to track associations between diet and disease risk, instead of solely relying on self-reported dietary intake,” Wood stated. “Our analysis does not support previous associations from observational research that linked red meat consumption and inflammation.”
Since observational studies cannot establish cause and effect, randomized controlled trials (RCTs) which randomly assign individuals to consume or not consume a specific dietary factor of interest, are required to provide additional evidence to comprehensively understand whether red meat does not affect inflammation. Several RCTs have demonstrated that lean unprocessed beef can be incorporated into heart-healthy dietary patterns.
“We have reached a stage where more studies are needed before we can make recommendations to limit red meat consumption for reducing inflammation if we intend to base dietary recommendations on the most up-to-date evidence,” Wood concluded. “Red meat is popular, accessible, and palatable – and its role in our diet has deep cultural roots. Given this aspect, recommendations regarding reduced consumption should be supported by solid scientific evidence, which is currently lacking.”
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