Background: There is uncertainty about the relevance of animal foods to the etiology of ischemic heart disease (IHD). We examined meat, fish, dairy products and eggs and risk for IHD in the pan-European EPIC cohort.
Methods: A prospective study of 409,885 men and women in nine European countries. Diet was assessed using validated questionnaires, calibrated using 24-hour recalls. Lipids and blood pressure were measured in a subsample. During 12.6 years mean follow up, 7198 participants had a myocardial infarction or died from IHD. The relationships of animal foods with risk were examined using Cox regression with adjustment for other animal foods and relevant covariates.
Results: The hazard ratio (HR) for IHD was 1.19 (95% CI 1.06-1.33) for a 100 g/d increment in intake of red and processed meat, and this remained significant after excluding the first 4 years of follow-up (HR 1.25 [1.09-1.42]). Risk was inversely associated with intakes of yogurt (HR 0.93 [0.89-0.98] per 100 g/d increment), cheese (HR 0.92 [0.86-0.98] per 30 g/d increment) and eggs (HR 0.93 [0.88-0.99] per 20 g/d increment); the associations with yogurt and eggs were attenuated and non-significant after excluding the first 4 years of follow-up. Risk was not significantly associated with intakes of poultry, fish or milk. In analyses modelling dietary substitutions, replacement of 100 kcal/d from red and processed meat with 100 kcal/d from fatty fish, yogurt, cheese or eggs was associated with approximately 20% lower risk of IHD. Consumption of red and processed meat was positively associated with serum non-HDL cholesterol concentration and systolic blood pressure, and consumption of cheese was inversely associated with serum non-HDL cholesterol.
Conclusions: Risk for IHD was positively associated with consumption of red and processed meat, and inversely associated with consumption of yogurt, cheese and eggs, although the associations with yogurt and eggs may be influenced by reverse causation bias. It is not clear whether the associations with red and processed meat and cheese reflect causality, but they were consistent with the associations of these foods with plasma non-HDL cholesterol, and for red and processed meat with systolic blood pressure, which could mediate such effects.