Eat less red meat and protect your kidneys

Photograph: / gresei

Last week, a local study found that eating a lot of red meat raises the risk of developing kidney failure and that replacing red meat in one’s diet with other sources of protein – such as poultry and fish – significantly cuts the risk. The participants in the study were Chinese adults living here and the red meat they consumed the most (97 per cent) was pork. Their age range was 45 to 74 years old during the recruitment for the study, from 1993 to 1998.

Most of the meat (87 per cent) was in fresh form. Organ and preserved meat accounted for 3.6 per cent and 8.5 per cent of the total red meat intake, respectively. The findings did not apply to non-Chinese and other red meat such as beef, lamb or duck. Red meat has previously been linked to other health issues, such as higher risk of heart disease and stroke.

The World Health Organisation said last year that eating processed meat can cause colorectal cancer. It classified unprocessed red meat such as beef steaks as “probably carcinogenic”.

But there is no need to say no to a good steak or juicy pork rib.


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Dr Akira Wu, a renal specialist at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, said that the moderate intake of any meat as a source of protein is healthy. But those with health issues have to watch their diet carefully. “People with high cholesterol or uric acid, which can cause gout, should avoid taking too much red meat.” Those with chronic kidney disease should substitute red meat with white meat such as fish or chicken, or dairy products, and eat more plant proteins, he said.

This is because a high-protein diet can cause their kidney function to deteriorate faster.

For the general public, Professor Koh Woon Puay from the Duke- NUS Medical School and NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, who led the local study, recommends eating red meat in moderation, “not for every meal and not daily, if you can”.

“You don’t have to avoid it. Just make sure red meat is not the single meat item at every meal,” she said. “As long as we have sufficient food sources for the important nutrients, it is better to eat from as wide a range of food as possible.”

Also, one can counteract any risk with other healthy lifestyle factors such as increasing physical activity, not smoking and maintaining one’s body weight, said Prof Koh.

This article was first published in The Straits Times on July 26, 2016.