Red Meat Linked to Cardiovascular Disease, Cancer and Early Death


Eating both processed and unprocessed red meat is linked to premature death, according to a recent Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) study, published online in the Archives of Internal Medicine on March 12, reported The State Column.

The study, Red Meat Consumption and Mortality, was partially funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Cancer Institute.

Why can eating too much red meat lead to early death? Researchers say it contains ingredients (e.g. heme iron, saturated fat, sodium, nitrites and some carcinogens) associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

The good news is substituting healthy proteins for red meat can greatly benefit your chances of living a longer, healthier life, researchers say. According to the study, replacing one serving of total red meat—roughly the size of a deck of cards—with fish reduced mortality risk by 7 percent, poultry by 14 percent, nuts by 19 percent, legumes by 10 percent, low-fat dairy by 10 percent, and whole grains by 14 percent.

Researchers calculated 9.3 percent of deaths in men and 7.6 percent in women in the follow-up could have been prevented if all study participants had eaten less than half of a serving of red meat (42 grams) per day—also comparable to the size of one hot dog.

HSHP researches examined data that tracked 37,698 men ages 40 to 75 at baseline from 1986 to 2008, and 83,644 women ages 30 to 55 at baseline from 1980 to 2008. In the study, unprocessed red meat was defined as beef, pork, lamb, or hamburger, and processed red meat included bacon, hot dogs, sausage, salami, and bologna. The study counted 23,926 deaths, including 5,910 from cardiovascular disease and 9,464 from cancer.

"In other words," Dean Ornish, MD, of the University of California San Francisco, wrote in accompanying commentary, "what we include in our diet is as important as what we exclude, so substituting healthier foods for red meat provides a double benefit to our health." He also added that "plant-based foods are rich in phytochemicals, bioflavonoids, and other substances that are protective."