Red meat, that staple of the American diet, could send you to an early grave.
The amount of red meat you consume increases in step your risk of dying at an early age from any cause, including heart disease and cancer, according to researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Why is red meat potentially so lethal?
- It is high in saturated fat and cholesterol, both of which are especially hard on the heart.
- When meat is charred at high temperatures, it can produce carcinogens on the surface.
- People who eat red meat are more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which boosts the risk for heart disease.
- Processed red meats, such as bacon, salami, cold cuts and hot dogs, contain substances known as nitrosamines, which have been linked to cancer.
The study: By analyzing data from two long-running studies of health professionals, the Harvard researchers tracked the diets of more than 121,000 middle-aged men and women for up to 28 years. Roughly 20 percent of the participants died during that period.
The results: On average, each additional serving of red meat the participants ate per day was associated with a 13 percent higher risk of dying during the study, reports Health.com. And even more dangerous than steak and hamburgers were processed red meat products, each serving of which was associated with a 20 percent higher risk of dying.
But there is good news: If you skip the red meat and instead eat fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, whole grains or low-fat dairy products, you will actually reduce your risk of dying in this stage of life by a range of 7 percent to 19 percent.
In addition, the researchers say that if everyone who participated in the study had cut his or her red meat consumption to less than half a serving a day, 9 percent of all deaths among the men and 8 percent of all deaths among the women could have been prevented.
How much red meat can you safely eat? "Our message is to try to reduce the red meat consumption to less than two to three servings per week," lead study author An Pan, Ph.D., told Health.com. "We don't want everyone to be a vegetarian," although he adds that avoiding processed red meat altogether may be a good idea. "It's better to go with unprocessed products and plant-based foods."
The study findings were published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
--From the Editors at Netscape