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Heart Health

Ask the doctor: Have I given up steak for nothing?

September 1, 2011

Q. I read that Harvard researchers found no association between eating red meat and developing heart disease and diabetes. Have I been depriving myself of steak for more than 20 years for no good reason?

A. In 2011 some of my colleagues at the Harvard School of Public Health reported findings from a meta-analysis that summarized the results of 20 studies. You're right: they didn't find an association between consumption of unprocessed red meat and heart disease and diabetes. On the other hand, one serving per day of processed meat was associated with a higher risk of developing those diseases. In this and other studies, red meat is defined as beef (including hamburger), lamb, pork, and game, and processed meat as any meat preserved by smoking, curing, salting, or chemicals, which would include bacon, hot dogs, sausage, and cold cuts. The processed meat was primarily processed red meat, but in some of the studies in the meta-analysis, poultry cold cuts were also included in the processed meat category.

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