raw meat in the shape of a heart

Red Meat and Heart Disease May Be More Closely Linked Than You Thought

It all starts with your gut.

If you’re a red meat guy, you know nothing beats a juicy steak. But a new study linking red meat and heart disease has some steak lovers asking, “is red meat bad for you?”.

A recent study published in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology found that higher red meat intake increases your risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) by 22 percent per daily serving.

Metabolites—produced by your gut to break down food—are to blame.

Is Red Meat Bad For You?

Researchers sifted through years of data from the National Institutes of Health’s Cardiovascular Health Study for 3,931 participants ages 65 and older. Their health and lifestyle habits were tracked for an average of 12.5 years, and up to 26 years in some cases.

Results show a 22 percent increased risk of heart disease when consuming a daily serving of red meat. While high blood sugar and inflammation–resulting from higher levels of iron in red meat–were two notable causes, 10 percent of this increased risk comes from metabolites produced during digestion.

One metabolite, TMAO, is a substance produced during digestion and metabolism and is linked to heart attack, stroke, and other serious heart complications in high levels. TMAO runs wild when your gut breaks down L-carnitine, an abundant chemical in red meat that produces energy.

Heart Health

“Interestingly, we identified three major pathways that help explain the links between red and processed meat and cardiovascular disease—microbiome-related metabolites like TMAO, blood glucose levels, and general inflammation—and each of these appeared more important than pathways related to blood cholesterol or blood pressure,” said Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., co-senior study author and Dean for Policy at the Friedman School, per a Tufts University release.

“This suggests that, when choosing animal-source foods, it’s less important to focus on differences in total fat, saturated fat, or cholesterol, and more important to better understand the health effects of other components in these foods, like L-carnitine and heme iron,” he says.

How Much Is Too Much Red Meat?

On average, Americans consume 17 ounces of red and processed meat per week.

The American Institute for Cancer Research advises limiting red meat consumption to no more than 12 to 18 ounces per week, or about three servings.

If you’re in this window, you’re likely fine. However, if you’re increasing your protein intake, consider supplementing with other sources like chicken or fish to avoid going over the recommended limit.

Next time you hit up your favorite steakhouse, consider a 5-ounce filet instead of that 28-ounce Porterhouse.