Healthy living

Red meat linked to early death

Red meat linked to early death Increases risk of heart disease and cancer, study finds

Eating too much red meat can increase the risk of an early death, according to the latest research.

A study from Harvard School of Public Health suggests that regularly eating red meat increases the risk of death from heart disease and cancer.

However, substituting red meat with other foods such as fish, chicken and nuts was found to have the opposite effect and lower the risk of death.

The researchers reached their conclusion after analysing data from 37,698 men and 83,644 women whose diets were tracked for up to 28 years between 1980 and 2008.

During this time, some 23,926 deaths were recorded, including 5,910 from heart disease and 9,464 from cancer.

Regular consumption of red meat, particularly processed meat, was linked to an increased risk of dying early.

A daily serving of unprocessed red meat, about the size of a deck of cards, increased the risk of dying by 13 per cent, while a daily serving of processed meat increased it by 20 per cent.

Specifically, eating red meat increased the risk of dying from heart disease by 26 per cent and cancer by 10 per cent. Eating processed meat increased the risk of dying from heart disease by 21 per cent and from cancer by 16 per cent, the study found.

However, the study also found that replacing red meat with a single serving of fish reduced the risk of death by seven per cent, while replacing it with a serving of poultry lowered the risk by 14 per cent.

The researchers said that red meats, particularly processed ones, which contain ingredients such as saturated fat, sodium, nitrites and carcinogens that can form during cooking, have been linked to chronic diseases.

Professor Frank Hu, who led the study, said: "This study provides clear evidence that regular consumption of red meat, especially processed meat, contributes substantially to premature death.

On the other hand, choosing more healthful sources of protein in place of red meat can confer significant health benefits by reducing chronic disease morbidity and mortality."

Victoria Taylor, senior heart health dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, said: "The study does not differentiate between leaner and fattier cuts of meat, so it would be useful to know if the association is the same when this is taken into account.

"Red meat can still be eaten as part of a balanced diet, but go for the leaner cuts and use healthier cooking methods such as grilling.

"If you eat processed meats like bacon, ham, sausages or burgers several times a week, add variation to your diet by substituting these for other protein sources such as fish, poultry, beans or lentils."

The study is published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

This article was published on Tue 13 March 2012

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