Does Red Meat Cause Heart Disease?

Among bodybuilders, red meat is popular for its great taste and because it’s chock full of complete, high-quality protein. But can eating too much red meat put you at risk for heart disease?

That’s been the word coming from magazines, bodybuilding forum, media sources, etc. for years, and mainstream fitness enthusiasts have consequently avoided beef in their pursuit of healthier, more attractive physiques.

But do you really need to drop beef from your diet, or can it help you build a healthy AND bigger body.

Let’s find out.

What Science Says

Because heart disease has become such a prevalent health concern in our modern world, scientists have conducted tons of research into what kinds of foods may cause the condition. That’s good news for bodybuilders trying to find out the truth.

One study, out of Greece in 2012, found that processed meat tends to pose a greater risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) than does unprocessed meat, though both may be contributing factors to the development of diabetes. The researchers suggest that most health-based efforts should be aimed at limiting processed meats in diets.

Similarly, Swedish scientists reported in 2014 that, while processed meat may lead to a higher incidence of heart failure (HF), unprocessed meat does not appear to pose the same risk.

On a broader scale, researchers from China reviewed 54 related studies in 2005 and concluded that red meat consumption does not lead to CHD in most people — under some conditions. Specifically, their findings indicate that it’s safe to eat red meat as part of a low-saturated-fat diet if you trim off all visible fat.

On the other hand, a large review study from the Harvard School of Public Health in 2012 was less optimistic about red meat consumption. Surveying the results of nearly 30 years’ worth of health data for almost 40,000 men and more than 80,000 women, the researchers concluded that red meat consumption is associated with higher rates of death from CHD, cancer, and all other causes than diets largely devoid of red meat. The scientists also suggest that substituting other protein sources for meat can lower your mortality rate.

One flaw in long-range studies like this one is that they are typically epidemiological in nature and rely on subject survey answers to collect much of their data. That’s especially true when it comes to what the people were eating every day for 30 years, so the results don’t necessarily draw a direct line between red meat and death, though they certainly may be cause for concern.

What Should You Do?

The studies into the effects of red meat on heart disease are a mixed bag. There are plenty that show high-fat, high-cholesterol diets — which may include red meat — are likely culprits in heart disease and other health problems. Others, though, show little if any direct relationship between heart disease and red meat.

In the end, much of the story comes down to HOW you eat your red meat and which types of red meat you eat. In particular, and especially if you’re interested in building a lean, muscular, and healthy physique, you should limit your red meat consumption to lean cuts devoid of visible fat most of the time. You also don’t need to eat beef at every meal because there are plenty of other sources of quality protein available — chicken, fish, yogurt, eggs, etc.

The other factors that plays into if and how you should eat read meat are your own health and genetics. You should always see your doctor for a complete physical when you’re contemplating any diet or exercise change, and that goes for red meat. By getting a handle on your current heart health and blood chemistry, you can know with more certainty whether red meat is right for you.

In general, though, red meat can be a healthful, and helpful, addition to a bodybuilding diet.