Meat-Eaters Have Significantly Higher Blood Pressure Than Vegetarians, Vegans

Nearly half of Americans have high blood pressure, according to new standards from the American College of Cardiology and other associations. Why? Not because of a deficiency of some prescription drug. The problem, for most people, is food, especially a diet based on roast beef, chicken wings and other familiar animal-based staples. Many of us love meat. But meat doesn’t love us back.  

A careful systematic review conducted by my research team and published by JAMA Internal Medicine found that, based on 32 observational studies, meat-eaters have significantly higher blood pressure than people who avoid meat—7 points systolic, 5 points diastolic, to be exact.

For starters, meat is calorie-dense, so meat-eaters are heavier. But there is more to it. Meat’s fat makes blood “thicker”—more viscous—so it takes more force from the heart to push it through the arteries. Ergo, blood pressure rises. Salt and sedentary lifestyle add to the problem.

We already had plenty of reasons to break our love affair with meat. Its contribution to heart disease, diabetes, and colorectal cancer has been known for decades, and its role in climate change—in part from the nearly 100 million methane-belching cows in the U.S.—is now well-known, too.

USDA figures show that the average American has cut meat consumption—from a high of 201.5 pounds per person per year in 2004 to 181 pounds a decade later. But we need to go much further. And unfortunately, we are making up for it with cheese, which is fattier than meat and higher in sodium than potato chips, and whose traffic across the checkout counter shows no signs of slowing.

It's one thing for adults to choose a diet that is heavily meat-based. But it's another when our children follow our lead, gain weight and put themselves at risk.

Need more motivation? Treating hypertension costs us more than $40 billion a year; about half of that is the cost of medication charges. That’s enough to raise anyone’s blood pressure.

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