Specifically, the study, published in the Journal of Hepatology, suggests high consumption of red and processed meats, including sausage and hot dogs, may lead to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and insulin resistance.
Previous studies have connected high consumption of red meat and processed meat with several other chronic conditions, including cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. The new study is the first to connect the popular protein choices with these metabolic conditions.
“Unhealthy Western lifestyle plays a major role in the development progression of NAFLD, namely, lack of physical activity and high consumption of fructose and saturated fat,” Shira Zelber-Sagi, the study’s lead researcher, said in a statement. “Our study looked at other common foods in the Western diet, namely red and processed meats, to determine whether they increase the risk for NAFLD.”
The ratio of red meat consumption to white meat was one-third to two-thirds, which means that even when red meat isn’t the majority of meat consumption, a person is still at risk.
Is There Still a Place for Meat on the Plate?
Despite her researchers’ findings, Zelber-Sagi says there are still good reasons to eat meat, including red meat.
“We should remember that meat contributes valuable nutrients that are beneficial to our health, including protein, iron, zinc, and B12 vitamins,” Zelber-Sagi told Healthline. “Fish are even more beneficial due to its omega-3 fatty acids content, which has anti-inflammatory effects. Poultry consumption was not related with NAFLD or insulin resistance. Thus, meat can be part of the diet.”
“Recommendations put forth by the American Institute for Cancer Research for red and processed meat differ,” she says. “There is an established threshold for red meat of no more than 18 ounces cooked per week. However, unlike red meat, a recommended limit of processed meat does not exist, since even small amounts increase your risk for certain types of cancer.”
That’s a sentiment Jennifer Kaplan also shares. Kaplan, who teaches at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa, California, believes the quality of the meat makes the greatest impact in the food’s overall healthful qualities.
Cows are ruminants and not able to digest corn, Kaplan explained. Yet the cows are fed a diet of corn, as well as liquefied fat, protein supplements, vitamins, antibiotics, and straw or hay.
“In contrast, grass-fed beef is considered to be a healthier red meat because grass feeding cows typically results in a leaner meat, or meat with a lower total fat content and a more healthful fatty acid profile,” she adds.
Indeed, a 2017 review in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine found that red meat consumption does not significantly increase a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease.
Instead, the report found the presence of visible fat and the use of preservatives in the meat linked red meat consumption with increased cardiovascular risk.
The study revealed that people who cooked meat with the unhealthiest methods had a higher chance of being diagnosed with insulin resistance.
Paleo and Keto Diets
Ultra-low-carb diets are swiftly gaining popularity. Quite different from traditional Western diets, these diets eliminate almost all sources of carbs, including many vegetables and fruits. Instead, they rely heavily on animal protein and low-carb foods, such as dairy.
But, Zelber-Sagi says, the rules still apply: Eat meat in moderation, and select high-quality meat.
“In other words, it is not necessarily enough to keep on [a] low-carbohydrate diet. One should also choose healthy meat sources, like chicken or turkey, and healthy cooking methods.”
Kim Holland is a freelance writer. This article was originally published on Healthline.com