Why red meat is so dangerous to your health

Published: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 29, 2013 at 4:17 p.m.

Q: I am trying to back my family off red meat. Have any ammunition I can use to persuade them to love salmon burgers and lentil casseroles?

— Carol P., Seattle

A: Bravo! You've got guts to lead a charge for a healthier diet, and we do have some new ammunition for you. Saturated fat in red meat has long been known to be a huge contributor to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), stroke, heart attack and dementia. Now there's a new troublemaker on the block.

Meet L-carnitine, a compound commonly found in meats. (It's also produced in your liver and kidneys and used to convert fat into energy.) Stan Hazen, M.D., Ph.D., from the Cleveland Clinic Heart and Vascular Institute, found that eating red meat delivers a dose of L-carnitine that alters the balance of good and bad bacteria living in your guts. The result is a chemical reaction that increases deposits of lousy LDL cholesterol on blood vessel walls. (Don't be confused by another recent study that says carnitine supplements immediately following a heart attack are beneficial: It's a short-term benefit. The carnitine in red meat still spells long-term problems like heart trouble and then some.) Adam Bernstein, M.D., Sc.D., of Dr. Mike's Wellness Institute, found that eating red meat more than once a week increased the risk of stroke, dementia, wrinkling, impotence and, of course, heart attacks.

For your family, here's a rundown of our best nutritional advice:

Sun-ripened strawberries on oatmeal for breakfast, a handful of walnuts to get through that 4 o'clock slump, grilled salmon, roasted veggies and a salad drizzled with olive oil for dinner can slash your risk for stroke and other cardiovascular disasters by 30 percent.

Ban the five food felons: added sugars and sugar syrups, any grain that isn't 100 percent whole, most saturated fat and all trans fats.

Saying "yes" to three servings of omega-3-rich fish weekly and taking 900 mg of DHA omega-3 algal oil daily slashes bodywide inflammation and protects you from cardio problems, cancer, depression and dementia. Olive and canola oils, chia and flax seeds, avocados and walnuts do the same.

Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at youdocsdaily@sharecare.com.

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