If you want to follow a healthy high blood pressure diet, a good course of action seems to be limiting consumption of red meat. Why? Because scientific research shows that high intake of meat, particularly red meat, may contribute to the development of high blood pressure.
A study published by BMJ in 2008 was carried out by the Imperial College, London, the Northwestern University, Chicago with the objective of investigating the association between haem iron and non-haem iron. The results showed that red meat intake, a source of haem iron, was directly associated with high blood pressure levels; 102.6 grams (4 oz) a day higher intake than recommended was associated with 1.25 mm Hg higher systolic blood pressure. However, intake of non-haem iron was associated with lower blood pressure levels.
Additional scientific research
Another study was conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health, both in Boston, to investigate the relationship between red meat and poultry intake and the incidence of hypertension. The study lasted ten years and included 28,766 females, 45 years of age or older.
The results of the study showed that women who consumed 1.5 or more servings of red meat a day had more risks of developing hypertension than those who didn’t eat red meat. By contrast, women who consumed poultry showed less risks of developing high blood pressure. The researchers concluded that red meat intake was directly associated with hypertension, whereas poultry intake was not.
Red vs. white meat?
Meats can be classified based on the amount of fat or based on their color. The color of the meat is determined by its content of myoglobin, a red pigment that is rich in iron; thus, red meat owes its red color to a higher content of this pigment than white meat. Since red meat has a higher amount of myoglobin, it also means that it has more haem iron (organic). The most common red meats available to us at the market are beef and lamb.
Among the most common white meats available to us for consumption we can name turkey, chicken, and rabbit. These meats have a lower amount of myoglobin and as a result, a lower content of iron.
The many rolls of iron
Iron is a mineral found in every cell of our body and it is essential for the formation of hemoglobin, the red pigment in the blood. The iron in hemoglobin combines with oxygen and transports it through the blood to the body’s tissues and organs.
Iron has three roles in our system:
To carry oxygen around the body. Every cell in the body needs oxygen and iron is the vehicle that carries oxygen from your lungs to wherever it’s needed.
To protect our immune system. The cells need iron to fight infection and defend our cells against intruders. Low levels of iron lead to more frequent infections.
To produce energy. Iron is essential in the chemical reactions that produce energy from food. When we have inadequate levels of iron our body will lack energy and can lead to anemia.
So, what is the problem with iron?
Well, on the other side of the spectrum, iron is a metal that might contribute to possible conditions related to blood pressure levels such as inflammation and oxidative stress –a condition in which the production of oxidants and free radicals exceeds the body’s ability to defend itself and prevent damage. The good news, however is that, as the above study shows, we need to make a distinction between the two kinds of iron
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Not all iron was born equal
There are two different types of iron coming from food:
Haem iron, found in red meat, seafood, and poultry
Non-haem iron which is found in plant foods. Good sources of iron from plant foods are wholegrain cereals and flours, leafy green vegetables, blackstrap molasses, dry beans such as lentils, beans, and garbanzo beans, and some dried fruits.
Iron in the form of haem iron is easily absorbed by the body. Non-haem iron is not that easily absorbed but we can boost its absorption by making our meat dishes a combination of meat and vegetables. Eating plant foods high in non-haem iron with vitamin C also enhances its absorption. The amount of iron absorbed from various foods ranges from around 1 to 10% from plant foods and 10 to 20% from animal foods.
As part of a healthy high blood pressure diet, high intake of red meat should be avoided not only because is too high in iron and can cause hypertension or high blood pressure but because it also presents several other disadvantages. Among those disadvantages we can just name a few such as being high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and purines, a compound that increases uric acid, a risk factor for gout. Replace red meat with fish, poultry, and plant foods as a source of iron.