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Eating Red and Processed Meat Linked to Liver Damage


Israeli scientists found that eating red and processed meats is linked to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). In this disorder, too much fat is stored in liver cells. It can lead to scarring, inflammation and irreversible damage of the liver, similar to the harm caused by excess alcohol consumption.

Red meat includes beef and pork, while processed meat includes bacon, sausage, ham and lunch meats. Previous research has associated those foods with serious chronic maladies such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The latest study adds one more hazard to their list of adverse health effects.

“NAFLD is considered as the hepatic component of the metabolic syndrome, with insulin resistance and inflammation as key factors in its pathophysiology,” explained lead investigator Professor Shira Zelber-Sagi, RD, Ph.D., from the School of Public Health, Faculty of Social Welfare and Health Sciences, University of Haifa, Israel. “Unhealthy Western lifestyle plays a major role in the development and progression of NAFLD, namely, lack of physical activity and high consumption of fructose and saturated fat. Our study looked at other common foods in the Western diet, namely red and processed meats, to determine whether they increase the risk for NAFLD.”

Red and Processed Meat Tied to 50-Percent Higher NAFLD Risk

The cross-sectional study published in the Journal of Hepatology involved participants between the ages of 40 to 70. Researchers measured NAFLD and insulin resistance through ultrasound and a blood test, and they recorded type of meat consumption and cooking methods with food frequency questionnaires.

Unhealthy cooking methods were defined as grilling or frying until meat is well done or very well done. This type of cooking creates heterocyclic amines, which are compounds that produce inflammation.

The investigators identified NAFLD in 38.7 percent of the participants and insulin resistance in 30.5 percent. They found the type of meat intake was one-third red and two-thirds white, proportions that are similar to the typical Israeli diet.

Analysis of the results led to the conclusion that a high intake of red and processed meat was independently linked to NAFLD and insulin resistance. The association held after adjusting for risk factors like body mass index, along with saturated fat and cholesterol consumption. Participants with the most intake had a 50-percent elevated risk of NAFLD and a greater-than-50-percent increased chance of developing insulin resistance. Moreover, a high intake of meat cooked using unhealthy methods was associated with an almost double risk of insulin resistance.

Lifestyle Measures Can Reduce NAFLD Risk

The study doesn’t prove a cause-effect relationship between red and processed meat intake and NAFLD; however, Zelber-Sagi, advised limiting these foods and opting for healthier white meat like turkey and chicken. Dietary guidelines generally advocate eating no more than one or two servings of red meat and no more than one serving of processed meat per week. Zelber-Sagi also recommended including fish in the diet, as well as boiling or steaming food rather than frying or grilling it at high temperatures.

“NAFLD is primarily a lifestyle-oriented disease. With sound medical and nutritional guidance from their clinicians, patients are better informed and equipped to implement the lifestyle changes needed to help reverse this disease,” remarked Prof. Zelber-Sagi.


Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies.

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