The Real Reason Red Meat Has Such A Bad Reputation

You've likely heard it before —  if you're trying to improve your diet or heart health, pass up the red meat and opt for lean meats like chicken or fish. According to cardiologists interviewed in a Prevention article, red meat is actually one of the top 40 worst foods for your heart. But why? Cardiologists told the outlet that "red meat consumption has been shown to increase cardiovascular risk." This is because, according to a "European Heart Journal" study, red meat tells your body to produce more trimethylamine N-oxide, aka TMAO, during digestion (via Oxford Academic). 

A study published in the peer-reviewed journal "Toxins" further details that elevated TMAO levels have been linked to an increased risk of "major adverse cardiovascular events and death" (via PubMed). High TMAO levels are also associated with decreased kidney function. Based on just this, you could assume that if you eat a lot of red meat, your TMAO levels go up, and then you end up with one of those scary-sounding major adverse cardiovascular events. However, the journal went on to point out a rather fishy fact that's not often discussed in the media.

Red meat isn't necessarily a killer

Further on in its published study, the journal noted that fish is one of the foods high in TMAO, but fish is generally considered healthy and, in fact, "fish consumption is inversely associated with fatal coronary heart disease," per NCBI. Another study from the American Physiological Society found that TMAO is often linked to seafood and vegetable-rich diets and, in some cases, can reduce hypertension-related symptoms, according to Science Daily. So what's the truth? Some studies seem to suggest that consuming red meat on its own doesn't necessarily come with a high risk. 

Instead, it could merely be the case that frequent red meat consumers are also likely to frequently consume other high-fat, high-sodium foods, which can attribute to poor health and mortality. Meanwhile, those who do not eat red meat, according to the Cleveland Clinic, are just in general more likely to consume fewer calories and fat, leading to a healthier lifestyle. Taking red meat's benefits and risks into consideration, the Cleveland Clinic recommends limiting red meat consumption to one to two servings per week — making it a part of a balanced diet versus eschewing it altogether.