In the largest study of its kind, involving over half a million men and women, older Americans who eat large amounts of red meat like beef, pork and lamb, as well as processed meats like hot dogs, bacon and cold cuts were found to have a greater risk of death from either heart disease or cancer, making it a dangerous red meat health connection.
This research back up the long-standing advice of experts to limit red meats in the diet, and appears in the March 23, 2009 Archives of Internal Medicine.
The study considered over 545,000 subjects aged 50 to 71 years old, from AARP members as part of the National Institutes of Health Diet and Health Study, and asked about their eating habits.
The results did rely on subjects remembering what they ate, and this isn’t always accurate. Also, the pool of subjects was drawn from a group thought to be healthier than other Americans, which means the findings might not apply to everyone, but they are certainly representative.
Over 70,000 of the participants died during the decade long study, and the researchers made adjustments in the study results to account for other risk factors like smoking, high BMI (body mass index) and family history of cancer in their analysis.
The findings however, even when taking these aspects into account, paint a damning picture for red and processed meat.
The equivalent of eating a quarter pound hamburger daily gave a 22% higher risk of dying from cancer; 27% higher risk of dying from heart disease when compared to subjects who ate just 5 ounces of meat a week.
Women whose diet included more red meat had a 20% higher risk of dying of cancer; 50% higher risk of dying of heart disease than women who ate less of this type of meat.
This consumption level might seem pretty high. In 2003-2004, the most recent year’s statistics are available, on average adults ate 2.5 ounces of red meat each day.
“The consumption of red meat was associated with a modest increase in total mortality,” declared Rashmi Sinha, lead author of the study.
Amazingly, processed meats carried lower overall risks than red meat according to the research.
Also important to note, people whose diets had more white meat (chicken and fish) were found to have lower risks of death.
“This fits together with the findings of the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Cancer Society, which recommend limiting the consumption of red meat,” added Sinha, who’s a senior investigator with the nutrition epidemiological branch at the Cancer Institute.
Just why are red meats so bad for our bodies?
Sadly, the research has not pinned down the answer quite yet.
Some researchers suggest the problem might lie with the iron and fat in the meats, others consider the salt to be the problem or the nitrates/nitrites of processed meats.
In addition, when meat is overcooked (especially fried or charbroiled) at high temperatures substances which are mutagenic or even carcinogenic are created.
Another argument for reducing the amount of red meat consumed?
And, if you need another reason, livestock contribute to greenhouse gas emissions that have been implicated in global warming.
Barry Popkin, who penned an accompanying editorial to the study, suggests, “We’ve promoted a diet that has added excessively to global warming.”
Most experts suggest that meat should not be eliminated entirely from your diet, but rather become a supporting part of meals along with other healthy options.
Choosing fish, poultry or beans as an alternative to the red meats is a great option. Leaner cuts can also be part of a healthy diet, and according to the American Meat Institute are an excellent source of iron, B12 and zinc, as well as other essential vitamins and minerals.
So, don’t let the link between red meat and health be your downfall. Talk to your doctor about how you can introduce a healthier diet.
Next – just head on over to the Daily Health Bulletin for the link between dangerous red meat and health, plus for a limited time get 5 free fantastic health reports. Click here for more details on this large study on the dangers of red meat.