High Blood Pressure? Eat Less Red Meat to Lower Heart Disease Risk, Study Says

|Updated Sep 19, 2022
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Nearly half of the adults living in the United States suffer from hypertension, according to the CDC and if you're one of them, you should consider cutting out red meat. That's the news from a new study that shows avoiding red meat can be protective against cardiovascular disease while eating red meat ups your chances of getting it. High blood pressure alone raises your chances of a future stroke or heart attack so anything you can do to bring down your blood pressure through diet and exercise is worth trying.

Developing high blood pressure is attributed to several stress-related habits including smoking, drinking alcohol, and lack of regular physical activity, as well as hereditary factors. But now new research suggests that dietary habits could have the greatest impact on young and middle-aged adults with stage 1 hypertension. This month, the American Heart Association (AHA) reveals that consuming less sugary beverages and red meat can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease for anyone with high blood pressure.

During the AHA’s Hypertension Scientific Sessions 2022, researchers explained how adopting the DASH diet (an acronym for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), could provide relief from hypertension and reduce the future risk of cardiovascular disease including heart attack and stroke. The DASH diet is designed to manage blood pressure, prioritizing fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, nuts, seeds, and grains. The researchers reveal that meat, high-sodium foods, and sugar-sweetened beverages contribute to worse hypertension symptoms.

"Nearly nine million young and middle-aged adults with untreated stage 1 hypertension represent a significant, impending burden for health care systems," Kendra D. Sims, Ph.D., M.P.H., a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, San Francisco and co-lead researcher of this study, said. "Our results provide strong evidence that large-scale, healthy behavior modifications may prevent future heart disease, related complications, and excess health care costs."

Reducing the Consequences of Untreated Heart Disease

The researchers examined how lifestyle changes including limited alcohol consumption, diet, and regular exercise could minimize health care costs and prevent thousands of death in the United States over the next ten years. The analysis found that adopting the DASH diet could prevent 15,000 cases of heart disease events in men and 11,000 among women.

The research team estimated that 8.8 million U.S. adults have untreated or undiagnosed stage 1 hypertension. Although stage 1 is considered low risk for heart attack and stroke, poor lifestyle choices can cause hypertension to worsen over time. To conduct the study, the researchers applied evidence from published meta-analyses and trial data to accurately estimate the effects of hypertension between 2018 and 2027. The research concluded that these recommended lifestyle changes could avoid 2,900 deaths and save $1.6 billion in health care costs.

However, the researchers noted that healthy food options are not accessible to millions of Americans. Without proper access to healthy foods and dietary education, vulnerable populations will continue to show a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

"Unfortunately, the availability and affordability of healthy food sources does not easily allow people to follow the DASH diet. Clinicians should consider whether their patients live in food deserts or places with limited walkability. Health counseling should include addressing these specific challenges to blood pressure control," Sims said.

Eating Red Meat Leads to Heart Disease

Last July, one study found that regularly eating red or processed meats can increase your risk of heart disease by 18 percent. The study supports a mounting portfolio of evidence that exposes how red meat is likely to cause heart disease later in life. Attributed to saturated fat content and sodium, red meat consumption presents a significant risk to those already suffering from low-stage hypertension.

However, adopting a plant-based diet earlier in life can lower the risk of heart disease 30 years later. Another study found that introducing a plant-centered diet at ages 18 to 30 can lower the risk of heart disease, prolonging your life expectancy. The study suggests eating foods similar to the DASH diet including beans, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains.

American Heart Association Under Fire

This August, the AHA found itself embroiled in controversy. The animal rights group Animal Outlook filed a lawsuit against the heart health organization, claiming that its "Heart Check" labels were misleading customers looking for heart-healthy options. Animal Outlook cites that the AHA granted red meat products with heart-healthy certification despite being classified as Group 2A carcinogens by the World Health Organization.

Even though lean meat granted the "Heart Check" contains less saturated fat than other red meat products, Animal Outlook emphasized that red and processed meat still present significant health risks. The non-profit claims that while the AHA claims it follows stricter standards than the USDA, the "Heart Check" labels do not reflect a higher, healthier standard.

Want to incorporate heart-healthy meals into your diet? Check out The Beet's heart-healthy recipes!