A new study has added non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) to the list of chronic diseases associated with a high consumption of red and processed meat.
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NAFLD is considered the hepatic component of the metabolic syndrome, with insulin resistance and inflammation being key factors in its pathophysiology.
Lead investigator of the study Shira Zelber-Sagi (School of Public Health, University of Haifa, Israel) says that an unhealthy Western lifestyle plays a major role in the development and progression of NAFLD, namely, a 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.”
Shira Zelber-Sagi, Lead Investigator
The study involved a cross-sectional analysis of people aged 40 to 70 years. All were screened by colonoscopy at the Tel Aviv Medical Center and had agreed to participate in a metabolic and hepatic screening study between 2013 and 2015.
Of 800 individuals included in the study, 357 completed questionnaires on the type of meat they consumed and the cooking methods they used. Unhealthy methods were defined as frying or grilling until meat is well done or very well done, since this produces pro-inflammatory compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs).
As reported in the Journal of Hepatology, 38.7% of participants were diagnosed with NAFLD and 30.5% were diagnosed with insulin resistance.
A high consumption of red and processed meat was independently associated with NAFLD and insulin resistance, irrespective of saturated fat and cholesterol intake and other risk factors such as BMI.
In addition, an increased risk of insulin resistance was observed among people who consumed large quantities of meat cooked using unhealthy methods and those already diagnosed with NAFLD who had a high intake of HCAs.
Although the link between NAFLD and high red and processed meat consumption needs confirming in prospective studies, Zelber-Sagi recommends eating healthier white meats such as chicken or turkey, as well as including fish in the diet. He also advises using healthy cooking methods such as steaming or boiling rather than grilling or frying food until it is very well done.