The study was conducted by the Liggins Institute at the University of Auckland, and was centred around research to determine the best beef option with the lowest cardiovascular risk, as well as too compare the nutritional benefits of plant-based options with that of meat.
It looked at 50 male participants with heightened cardiovascular disease risk between the ages of 35 to 55 with comparable weight and blood cholesterol profiles. These participants were randomly segregated into three test groups which would consume either pasture-raised New Zealand Wagyu-cross beef, grain-fed Angus beef or a soy protein alternative three times a week (500g in total).
According to study co-researcher Dr Amber Milan, the authors found no significant difference between the cardiovascular disease risk biomarkers for the three test groups after the study ran for eight weeks.
“At [the recommended dietary intake level in New Zealand and Australia] of 500g a week, we don’t see a detrimental impact to heart health in an eight week period,” she told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“[That said], because [the participants] had to exclude other red meat, including processed meat like sausages and ham, their diet during the study may have been different from their normal diet, and some of the foods they stopped eating may have partly led to some of the observed changes.”
One of the major biomarkers that the researchers looked at were long chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCn3PUFA) in the blood profile, as these are associated with reduced cardiovascular disease risk.
The authors highlighted that beef breed and feeding practices influence the lipid profiles, for example such that the pasture-raised New Zealand Wagyu-cross beef would contain more LCn3PUFA than grain-fed Angus beef (AB), which they expected might impact the cardiovascular risk of ‘habitual beef consumers’, though evidence for this was not found in the study.
“[Consuming wagyu beef] three times per week over eight weeks did not alter circulating LCn3PUFA relative to [consumption of] either Angus beef or the soy alternative. At this quantity and duration of consumption, biomarkers of cardiovascular risk were unaltered by the inclusion of red meat in a free-living diet,” stated the study.
The overall percentage of total body fat and waist circumference were noted to have decreased in all test groups, but fat distribution to the upper body increased.
Dr Milan presented these findings at the Food Structures, Digestion and Health International Conference earlier this month. The study was funded by the New Zealand High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge and Firstlight Foods.
Red meat debate
Earlier this year, a Harvard study published in BMJ made headlines worldwide when it linked red meat consumption with ‘higher risk of premature death’, in addition to higher risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain types of cancers.
A separate study published in Archives of Internal Medicine claimed that ‘every extra daily serving of unprocessed red meat’ increased the risk of premature death by 13%, whereas processed red meat increased this by 20%.
That said, the daunting results are not final, as other recent studies have come out to cast doubt on these.
A 2012 Japanese study in European Journal of Clinical Nutrition on over 50,000 participants revealed no link between red meat consumption of up to 100g per day and higher risk of cardiovascular-related deaths, whereas a separate Harvard study found no link for unprocessed red meat consumption and heart disease or diabetes, though processed red meat saw a stronger link.
In addition, a controversial international review study published in Annals of Internal Medicine earlier this month which reviewed some six million participants argued that most previous studies were either not comprehensive, too focused on extreme exposure, or lacking in concrete evidence.
“The possible absolute effects of red and processed meat consumption on cancer mortality and incidence are very small, and the certainty of evidence is low to very low,” said the authors.