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Eating too Much Red Meat may Lead to Earlier Death

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Red Meat and Health

New research suggests we can expect an earlier death from eating red and processed meats daily. Eating red and processed meats may lead to earlier death from all causes, cancer, or heart disease according to a large study of 500,000 individuals. Sticking to white meat reduced risk of early mortality, cancer and heart disease in individuals followed for ten years through the Social Security Administration Death Master File and National Death Index databases.

The study participants ranged in age from 50 to 71 years old, and were enrolled in 1995 as part of the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study. Daily intake of red and processed meat was evaluated using questionnaires for self-reporting to compare meat intake and cancer, heart disease, and overall death risk.

The authors write, "For women eating processed meat at the first quintile level, the decrease in cardiovascular disease mortality was approximately 20 percent. The impact on cardiovascular disease mortality was an 11 percent decrease in men and a 21 percent decrease in women if the red meat consumption was decreased to the amount consumed by individuals in the first quintile. “

According to the authors, death can be prevented in 11 percent of men and 16 percent of women if by decreasing red meat consumption to the level of intake seen in the group studied who consumed the least amount of red and processed meat daily (1.6 grams per 1,000 calories per day).

Red meat included pork, and beef and meats manufactured from either. Popular processed meats that can lead to earlier death include cured dried or smoked white or red meat, including cold cuts.

Conflicting recommendations about needed protein from beef comes from the National Cattlemen's Beef Association who recommend eating red meat for optimal nutrition.

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The study may also be somewhat inconclusive if you consider other lifestyle factors such as smoking and lack of exercise among the study group. Critics also suggest the study relied on self-reporting, another factor that might have tipped the scales in favor of white meat versus red meat.

Shalene McNeill, PhD, RD, executive director of human nutrition research for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association says, “As is often the case with epidemiological research on this subject, it is hard to draw substantial conclusions about any one food, ” adding that lean meats do have a place in our daily diet.

However, "The bottom line is we found an association between red meat and processed meat and an increased risk of mortality," says lead researcher Rashmi Sinha of the National Cancer Institute, who is not a vegetarian. It is unclear if cooking meat releases carcinogens, but the study suggests that saturated fats combined with cooking red meat may be related to earlier death.

Saturated fat contributes to cancer, and leads to obesity, which also fuels the spread of cancer cells. Eating fatty foods can raise cholesterol levels, also leading to heart disease.

The American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund tell us to reduce our red meat intake to reduce our risk of cancer.

The new study suggests we should limit consumption of red and processed meats to one to two times a week to reduce risk of cancer, heart disease, and death from overall causes.

Arch Intern Med. 2009; 169[6]:543-545.



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