Story at a glance
- The American Heart Association presented new data on how meat consumption can impact a person’s stroke risk.
- Those who consumed more animal fat, like red meat and processed meat, were linked to having a higher risk of stroke.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, someone in the U.S. experiences a stroke every 40 seconds.
New research suggests that the type of meat people consume may be linked to a higher stroke risk.
The study, by the American Heart Association (AHA), was presented on Monday, according to NBC News, and found that people who eat more animal fat were linked to having a higher risk of stroke. Those who consumed more fat from vegetable sources were linked to a lower stroke risk.
The results were from 27 years worth of data from more than 117,000 health care professionals. The data was collected from two of the largest and longest-running nutritional studies in the U.S., the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Participants had to complete regular questionnaires about their diets and also provide researchers with their medical records.
The study found that those who had a higher intake of vegetable fats were linked to a lower risk of ischemic stroke. Those who ate the most vegetable and polyunsaturated fats (like olive oil) were 12 percent less likely to have an ischemic stroke.
Participants in the study who ate the highest amounts of animal fat, like from red and processed meats, were 16 percent more likely to have a stroke than those who ate the least amount of animal fat.
Fat from dairy did not appear to have an association with stroke risk.
Michael Miedema, director of cardiovascular prevention at the Minneapolis Heart Institute, told NBC that, “This study fits with the prior nutritional science that shows that we should be eating primarily a plant-based diet. The average American diet relies on animal-based proteins and the sooner we can shift that to more plant-based, the better off we’ll be.”
A stroke occurs when something blocks blood supply to part of the brain or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. In either case, parts of the brain become damaged or die, which can cause lasting brain damage, long-term disability or even death.
And unfortunately, strokes are incredibly common in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that in 2018, one in every six deaths from cardiovascular disease was due to stroke. The CDC also said that someone in the U.S. has a stroke every 40 seconds and that every four minutes someone dies of a stroke.
The repercussions of strokes can also be severe, with strokes capable of causing serious long-term disability, with the CDC saying strokes can reduce mobility in more than half of stroke survivors 65-years-old and over.
In line with the AHA’s latest study, the CDC recommends eating foods low in saturated fats and cholesterol, which can help prevent strokes.
Food is not the only factor when it comes to calculating stroke risk. Smoking, diabetes and obesity can all play a role too.
However, the AHA’s latest study was purely observational so researchers could not conclude direct cause and effect. There is a chance that those who consumed a lot of red meat also consumed too much salt, and the salt drove up their stroke risk.
Despite those limitations, researchers told NBC that the results still reiterate previous studies — that diet plays an outsize role in a person’s risk for disease.
Tracey Severson, a registered dietitian at the Oregon Health & Science University Knight Cardiovascular Institute, told NBC that, “There’s no need for perfection but there is so much power in improving our health with our food choices. We can prevent the bulk of illnesses like stroke by changing what we’re eating.”
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