Is Red Meat Bad For Blood Pressure?
On many health websites, you’ll read that red meat is bad for high blood pressure – it’s high in cholesterol and saturated fat and eating too much of it will bump up your blood pressure. That’s the usual line.
It’s true that many studies have shown that eating red meat regularly is linked to higher rates of heart disease, and heart disease and high blood pressure often go together.
But is this the case for all red meat?
Not necessarily, as recent research shows that different kinds of red meat have different effects on our health.
Firstly, an analysis of 20 studies by a team at Harvard University found that there’s a big difference between eating unprocessed red meat (beef, pork, lamb etc.) and red meat which has been processed (by smoking, salting, curing or having preservatives added), such as bacon, salami, pastrami, smoked ham and other ‘luncheon meats’.
Their analysis showed that it’s eating processed red meat which leads to increased risk of heart disease, not eating unprocessed red meat.
A large French study which followed over 44,000 women, similarly found that regularly eating processed red meat was linked to increased risk of high blood pressure, while regularly eating unprocessed red meat was not.
So is red meat bad for blood pressure?
So the answer to the question – is red meat bad for blood pressure – is “it depends”. It depends on what kind of red meat you eat. Eating smoked, salted and cured red meat is bad for blood pressure, but eating fresh red meat isn’t likely to make much difference.
But what about all that saturated fat and cholesterol? Surely they mean red meat is bad for blood pressure?
Well, firstly, the cholesterol you eat in your food doesn’t necessarily have any great effect on the cholesterol levels in your blood.
That might sound counterintuitive, but it’s actually other foods that affect the cholesterol present in your bloodstream – eating food containing trans fats raises cholesterol levels, and so does eating a lot of sugary foods and starchy foods (especially those based on refined grains – white bread, pasta, pastries etc).
As for saturated fat, well a raft of recent studies have been demonstrating that saturated fat is not the demon it’s made out to be and that eating saturated fat isn’t strongly linked with high blood pressure and heart disease.
I’ve written on more on this in another post: Saturated fat and high blood pressure
So you can put quality steak back on the menu and you can even have butter with it 🙂
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Why is processed meat bad for blood pressure?
Researchers in the Harvard study and the French study think that it’s the high salt content of processed meat, and the nitrate preservatives which are added to it, which contribute to the increased risk of heart disease and high blood pressure which are linked to eating processed meat regularly.
Red meat associated with some other health risks
Having said all this, there are some studies which do still show that regularly eating red meat – even unprocessed red meat – is linked to poorer health, including increased risk of some cancers and diabetes.
So if you eat red meat frequently, it’s probably still a good idea to replace it sometimes with fish (especially fatty fish which is good for blood pressure and the heart) or poultry, or other high-protein foods like legumes (peas, beans, chick peas) and nuts.
Cooking red meat for maximum health benefits
How you cook meat also affects its health properties. Cooking meat at high
temperatures makes it more carcinogenic as various unsavoury chemicals are created. Unfortunately, this includes chargrilling and barbecuing meat.
The healthiest ways to cook meat are therefore to bake or steam it, or slowly
grill or broil it with a low heat, or fry gently at low heat in a pan. These are also good options if you prefer your meat leaner, as you can let the fat drain out.
Those of you who’ve read our guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure Naturally will be familiar with this, of course.
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