Red meat and heart disease
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A major cause of death around the world is heart disease. Among the various cardiovascular disorders, IHD is the largest contributor.1

What is ischaemic heart disease?

Ischaemia occurs when blood supply to the local areas is deficient because of blockages in the vessels supplying blood to those regions. In such cases, the organ receives less oxygen and blood. IHD, also referred to as CHD or coronary heart disease, is typified by the narrowing of the arteries supplying blood to the heart. This can occur due to a constriction of the blood vessel or blood clot but mostly happens due to the buildup of plaque.2

Risk factors in ischaemic heart disease

The most common risk factors causing IHD include:1

  • Diet
  • Hypertension
  • Smoking
  • Hyperlipidaemia
  • Alcohol
  • Obesity
  • Inactivity
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Psychological factors

Diet and ischaemic heart disease

While food digests, the bacteria in the stomach produces a by-product called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO). Some part of TMAO comes from the nutrients found in red meat. Red meat has high saturated fat levels, which is the greatest contributor to heart disease.3

Trimethylamine N-oxide is known to affect the heart by:3

  • Increasing the deposit of cholesterol in the arteries.
  • Increasing the risk of clotting, by interaction with platelets, thereby causing stroke and heart attack.

Meat and ischaemic heart disease

Most medical practitioners recommend diets which include varieties of foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, plant-based protein, and dairy products low in fat. Moreover, they strongly advocate minimising the quantity of red meat consumed. When consuming the same amount of calories, it can be seen that the TMAO levels in those consuming red meat daily are three times higher than those who restrict themselves to vegetarian or white meat.3

It is heartening to know that TMAO levels can be reversed quite easily. By eliminating red meat, it has been noticed that levels can reduce significantly over the course of a month.3

Substitutes for red meat

There are no real foods that can restore heart health completely. However, some foods can support heart ably and prevent further degeneration. Some of these include:4

  • Fish rich in oils – helps to thin the blood and improves the elasticity of blood vessels
  • Fruits and vegetables – are rich in folate and antioxidants
  • Unrefined carbohydrates – help to keep sugar levels controlled
  • Foods with vitamin E – protect against bad cholesterol
  • Garlic – helps to lower cholesterol
  • Tea – antioxidants in tea can help to improve the flow of blood and prevent blockages
  • Nuts and seeds – should be consumed in small quantities
  • Legumes and soy – can reduce cholesterol levels, if very high

Moreover, it is important to limit the intake of salt, which tends to increase blood pressure and the risk of a heart attack.

So the next time you are out at a fancy new restaurant, try the chicken salad instead of lamb chops!


  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Vegetarian diet in patients with ischemic heart disease (VERDI) [Internet]. [updated 2019 Sep 11; cited 2020 Jan 3]. Available from:
  2. NCBI Bookshelf. Cardiovascular disability: updating the social security listings [Internet]. [cited 2020 Jan 3]. Available from:
  3. National Institutes of Health. Eating red meat daily triples heart disease-related chemical [Internet]. [updated 2019 Jan 8; cited 2020 Jan 3]. Available from:
  4. Victoria State Government. Heart disease and food [Internet]. [updated 2012 Sep; cited 2020 Jan 3]. Available from:

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