Observations in the epidemiological literature suggests an increase in chronic disease risk with increased consumption of red meat, or red and processed meat, however, self-reported intake bias means it is necessary to gain greater clarity on the relationships.  Using biomarkers of intake should reduce the measurement errors inherent in epidemiologic studies caused by bias in self-reported intake.  Zheng and colleagues conducted a study to develop metabolomics based biomarkers of red and processed meat intake and evaluate the associations of those biomarkers and chronic disease risk.  They report the results of that work in the July 2022 issue of The Journal of Nutrition.

Data for this work were obtained from participants in the Women’s Health Initiative study cohorts.  Intake biomarkers in serum and urine were developed in a 153-participant feeding study conducted in 2010-2014.  The identified biomarkers were then used in a 450-participant biomarker study conducted in 2007-2009 to establish calibration equations that adjust for random and systematic measurement errors in FFQ intakes.  The biomarker-calibrated meat intakes were then used to test for associations with cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes among the 81,954 WHI participants.

When controlling for nondietary confounders, hazard ratios for the diseases in those consuming 40% above the red meat median intake were determined using the biomarkers and calibration equations that met prespecified criteria.  The values derived for red meat intake were significant for coronary artery disease, heart failure, breast cancer, total invasive cancer, and diabetes, and those for red plus processed meat were similar.  However, when potential dietary confounding factors were included, including energy consumption, the hazard ratios were close to the null, and mostly nonsignificant.  These data led the authors to conclude that although a high meat dietary pattern is associated with somewhat higher chronic disease risk, the relationships appear to largely attributable to the dietary pattern, as opposed to the consumption of red or processed meats.


Cheng Zheng, Mary Pettinger, G A Nagana Gowda, Johanna W Lampe, Daniel Raftery, Lesley F Tinker, Ying Huang, Sandi L Navarro, Diane M O’Brien, Linda Snetselaar, Simin Liu, Robert B Wallace, Marian L Neuhouser, Ross L Prentice, Biomarker-Calibrated Red and Combined Red and Processed Meat Intakes with Chronic Disease Risk in a Cohort of Postmenopausal Women, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 152, Issue 7, July 2022, Pages 1711–1720, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/nxac067.

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