Healthy living

Processed meat increases risk of heart disease

Processed meat increases risk of heart disease But not other red meats

Eating processed meat such as bacon and sausages increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes, new research has found.

But eating unprocessed red meat such as lamb, pork and beef is not associated with a higher risk of both conditions.

Researchers from Harvard School of Public Health, US, analysed data from 20 previous studies involving more than a million people from 10 countries to compare what effect eating processed and unprocessed meat had on health.

They found that people who ate 50g of processed meat a day had a 42 per cent higher risk of developing heart disease and a 19 per cent higher risk of developing diabetes.

A 50g seving of meat is the equivalent of one hot dog or two rahers of bacon.

However eating unprocessed beef, lamb or pork appeared to have no effect on the likeliehood of developing either heart disease or diabetes.

Dr Renata Micha from the department of epidemiology at the university suggested the higher risk of heart disease and diabetes associated with eating processed meats may be partially explained by the differences in salt content.

She said: "When we looked at average nutrients in unprocessed red and processed meats eaten in the United States, we found that they contained similar average amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol.

"In contrast, processed meats contained, on average, 4 times more sodium and 50 per cent more nitrate preservatives.

"This suggests that differences in salt and preservatives, rather than fats, might explain the higher risk of heart disease and diabetes seen with processed meats, but not with unprocessed red meats."

Salt is known to increase blood pressure, a strong risk factor for heart disease, and nitrates have been shown to speed up hardening of the arteries in animal studies.

"To lower risk of heart attacks and diabetes, people should consider which types of meats they are eating," Dr Micha said.

"Processed meats such as bacon, salami, sausages, hot dogs and processed deli meats may be the most important to avoid. Based on our findings, eating one serving per week or less would be associated with relatively small risk."

The study findings are published online in the journal Circulation.

This article was published on Tue 18 May 2010

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