Adopting a Mediterranean-style eating pattern improves heart health, with or without reducing red meat intake, as long as the meat is lean and unprocessed, according to a new study.
“This study is important because it shows that red meat can be part of a heart-healthy eating pattern like a Mediterranean-style eating pattern,” says Wayne W. Campbell, professor of nutrition science at Purdue University. “This study was not designed to promote red meat intake, and we are not encouraging people who otherwise consume a vegetarian-style eating pattern to begin consuming red meat.”
“Most healthy eating pattern recommendations include a broad statement to reduce red meat intake,” says Lauren E. O’Connor, a recent doctoral degree recipient and lead author of the paper, which appears in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
“Our study compared Mediterranean-style eating patterns with red meat intake that is typical in the United States, about 3 ounces per day, versus a commonly recommended intake amount that is 3 ounces twice per week. Overall, heart health indicators improved with both Mediterranean-style eating patterns.
“Interestingly, though, participants’ LDL cholesterol, which is one of the strongest predictors we have to predict the development of cardiovascular disease, improved with typical but not lower red meat intake.”
The study assessed the health-promoting effects of a Mediterranean-style eating pattern, without being intended weight loss, for adults who are overweight and at risk for developing heart disease. All 41 study participants—28 women and 13 men—completed three study phases.
The phases included a five-week period of consuming a Mediterranean-style eating pattern containing three ounces per day of lean, unprocessed red meat, an amount of red meat the typical United States resident consumes; a five-week return to their regular eating pattern; and a five-week period of consuming a Mediterranean-style eating pattern with less red meat, three ounces twice weekly, which is commonly recommended for heart health.
Researchers randomly assigned the order of the typical and lower red meat interventions among participants.
“It’s also very encouraging that the improvements these people experienced—which included improvements in blood pressure, blood lipids, and lipoproteins—were noticeable in five weeks,” Campbell says.
The Mediterranean-style eating pattern, which is recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, has clinically proven effects on health especially related to heart health and risks for heart disease such as heart attack or stroke.
“The composition of a Mediterranean-style eating pattern varies across countries and cultures,” Campbell says. “What is common across most Mediterranean regions is consumption of olive oil, fruit, vegetables, and legumes, but protein sources depend on what country and geographic region. If they live on the coast, they will eat more seafood, but if they live inland they will eat more red meat.”