The amount of red meat that’s recommended for promoting heart health is, not surprisingly, much lower than the amount of red meat that Americans actually consume. But from a new study at Purdue University, scientists show that if the red meat is lean, unprocessed, and part of a Mediterranean diet, eating red meat could actually be beneficial.
The Mediterranean diet is lauded by nutrition experts around the world for its heart-healthy and weight loss benefits, including Appalachian State University Human Performance Laboratory Director David Nieman, DrPH.
“There’s nothing easy about staying thin in this modern day and era,” Nieman explained. “There has to be an unending vigilance in balancing the energy from what we eat with the energy that we burn through exercise.”
A traditional Mediterranean diet includes daily servings of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; legumes, nuts, and seeds; olives, olive oil, wine, and spices. The diet also occasionally includes seafood, yogurt, cheese, poultry, and eggs, and it rarely includes sugar, salt, and meat.
In the new study, though, researchers aimed to see if regular red meat consumption could work as part of a Mediterranean diet if, of course, the meat was lean and unprocessed. Researchers recruited 41 overweight adults, male and female, with a risk for developing heart disease (the study did not focus on the effects of red meat and the Mediterranean diet on weight loss).
The study participants experienced three phases of eating, lasting five weeks each:
Researchers observed positive levels of blood pressure, blood lipids (fat) and lipoproteins (cholesterol) in both phases of red meat consumption.
“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,” explained lead author Lauren E. O’Connor.
Researchers stress that while the study demonstrates that there is a place for red meat in a healthy, Mediterranean-style diet, they do not necessarily recommend that current vegetarians change their diet to include red meat.
The present study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.