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One Major Side Effect of Eating Red Meat, Study Says

Eating less red meat may reduce a woman’s risk of dementia.
FACT CHECKED BY Cheyenne Buckingham

Protein is an essential component of your diet, but not all protein is equally good for you. One of the most controversial proteins is red meat, which is a source of high-quality protein and rich in essential nutrients like iron.

At the same time, public health officials urge people to minimize their intake because of the various health risks associated with eating red meat, including increased cholesterol levels in your blood. (Related: The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now).

A new study that involved over 100,000 postmenopausal women found that women who ate the most processed red meat had a 20% higher risk of dying from dementia in comparison with women who ate the least amount of red meat.

The study, which was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, even found that eating unprocessed red meat may also increase your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. The data is somewhat unsurprising, given that plenty of other studies have found that high levels of cholesterol are associated with a heightened risk of cardiovascular disease.

And red meat, as you likely already know, contains quite a bit of harmful cholesterol (LDL). Research has also connected consumption of red meat with a higher risk of death in general for both men and women.

This also isn't the first study to find a link between meat and dementia—a 2016 study found that meat consumption was the most significant dietary link to Alzheimer's disease, based on data from 10 different countries.

The latest study builds on this information but specifically points to red meat as one of the main culprits. Women in the study who ate the most chicken had a lower risk of dying from dementia, while women who ate the most eggs had mixed health results—they were more likely to die from cardiovascular disease or cancer but were less likely to die from dementia.

"It is unclear in our study why eggs were associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular and cancer death," Dr. Wei Bao, the lead study author, said in a statement. He pointed out that there are many ways of preparing eggs, and the fact that Americans tend to fry them or eat them with bacon may be the real cause of this association.

Some good news came out of the study, though. Postmenopausal women who ate more plant-based proteins, such as tofu, nuts, beans, and peas, were less likely to develop heart disease or die prematurely from any cause.

Keep in mind that it still remains unclear if men may also experience an increased risk of death from dementia due to red meat consumption.

"Whether the same findings would be observed in men needs to be investigated in another study," Dr. Bao told Eat This, Not That!

For now, as we wait to know more about this potential link, it can't hurt to limit your consumption of red meat in a week, and avoid processed red meat when possible. Check out these meat-free alternatives in the meantime!

Urvija Banerji
Urvija Banerji has written about food for publications like Atlas Obscura, Eater, and The Swaddle. Read more about Urvija
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