Is There a “Safe” Dose for Meat Consumption?

Meat consumption is associated with a small but significant increase in cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality. The dose-response relationship was clear, and no meat “dose” was safe.

dosis segura para consumir carne

Eating red meat, both processed (sausages, cold cuts) and unprocessed, is associated with a small increase in mortality according to this analysis that will be published in JAMA and which included six different prospective studies.

Poultry was also associated with an increase in cardiovascular disease, but not all-cause mortality. The analysis on poultry is limited because it was unable to distinguish between fried chicken and chicken cooked in other ways.

On the other hand, there was no association whatsoever between eating fish and a risk increase.

While the impact of eating processed meat and unprocessed red meat is small, it is also true that this is an easily modifiable factor. Consequently, its effect on the population should not be undermined, and we should address it in our long list of advice for patients.


Read also: Skipping Breakfast and Cardiovascular Risk.


The diet data for the 6 large registries composing the study database were collected between 1985 and 2002, and almost 30,000 subjects were included and followed for a median of almost 20 years.

After adjustment for multiple variables, two servings per week of processed red meat were enough to increase mortality (hazard ratio [HR]: 1.07; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.04-1.11). Compared with other factors, the absolute increase in risk seems modest, with 1.74% over 30 years, but it clearly exists.

Additionally, this work could not find a parameter for “safe” red meat consumption: the risk remained stable only in subjects with zero consumption.


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Advice should be individualized based on the global risk for each patient, but recommending other protein sources (such as egg whites, fish, nuts, legumes, and whole grains) seems healthy.

Original Title: Associations of processed meat, unprocessed red meat, poultry, or fish intake with incident cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality.

Reference: Zhong VW et al. JAMA Intern Med. 2020; Epub ahead of print.


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