Red Meat Intake Associated With Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Investigators assessed the association between meat intake and risk for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in a study cohort with low overall consumption of red meat.

Red meat and organ meat consumption is associated with an increased risk for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), according to a study published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology. These findings suggest that limiting red meat and organ meat intake may prevent and help manage NAFLD.   

The most common liver disease in the world is NAFLD. An estimated 17% to 46% of the population across multiple countries are affected by this disease. Previous research has shown that high fructose, carbohydrate, and red meat intake, along with low intake of fish, are associated with a significant risk for NAFLD. 

Researchers examined the association between meat intake and risk for NAFLD in the Golestan Cohort Study (GCS). The GCS commenced in 2004 and enrolled 50,045 participants in Golestan Province, Northeastern Iran. The ages of the participants ranged from 40 to 75 years. From 2004 to 2008, dietary information was obtained using a 116-item, semiquantitative food frequency questionnaire at baseline. In 2011, a total of 1612 participants were enrolled in a liver-focused study and underwent evaluation via ultrasound for NAFLD in addition to liver function tests.

Based on the GCS population, total red meat intake and total white meat intake were categorized into quartiles. To estimate odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs), multivariable logistic models were utilized.

Of the study sample, 51.6% were men and the mean age was 52.5+6.6 years. The participants’ mean body mass index (BMI) was 28.3+3 kg/m2.

The researchers noted that the median intake was 17 g/d for total red meat and 53 g/d for total white meat. During follow-up, the overall prevalence of NAFLD was 37.7% (n=505), and 9.2% (n=124) of the participants had elevated serum alanine transaminase (ALT) levels in addition to NAFLD.

High total read meat intake (ORQ4 vs Q1, 1.59; 95% CI, 1.06-2.38; P trend =.03), and organ meat intake (ORQ4 vs Q1, 1.70; 95% CI, 1.19-2.44; P trend =.003) were found to be significantly associated with NAFLD. Conversely, total white meat, chicken, or fish intake were not significantly associated with NAFLD.

This study is not without limitations. Ultrasound has limited accuracy regarding the diagnosis of NAFLD, and performing liver biopsy in the general population is not feasible. Therefore, researchers could not ascertain the level of liver injury.

The study authors concluded that even low consumption of red meat and organ meat is associated with increased odds of developing NAFLD. Though, it should be noted that total white meat, chicken, or fish consumption showed no significant associations with increased odds for NAFLD. Additional research on the role of diet in preventing NAFLD is needed.

Disclosure: This research was supported by multiple sources. Please see the original reference for a full list of disclosures. 


Hashemian M, Merat S, Poustchi H, et al. Red meat consumption and risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in a population with low meat consumption: the Golestan cohort study. Am J Gastroenterol. 2021;116(8):1667-1675. doi: 10.14309/ajg.0000000000001229