(Reuters) People who eat a lot of red meat are more likely to die at any given time than those who go light on the burgers and hotdogs, according to a U.S. study that followed more than 100,000 people over several decades.
The more servings of both processed and unprocessed red meat people reported eating daily, the higher their chances of dying over a more than 20-year span.
“Red meat and especially processed red meat contains a lot of compounds and chemicals that have been linked to chronic disease risk,” said Frank Hu, at the Harvard School of Public Health and one of the study leaders.
Research has suggested the saturated fat and cholesterol in red meat is linked to plaque buildup in arteries, which increases the risk of heart disease, while cooking red meat produces more carcinogens. A recent study also found a connection to kidney cancer.
The study is based on two large, ongoing studies of U.S. doctors and nurses who have regularly reported eating habits as well as physical activity, smoking and family history for more than two decades.
The lightest meat eaters reported getting half a serving or less of meat per day, while the study’s biggest meat lovers had red meat twice or three times daily. Three ounces of unprocessed meat, one hotdog or two slices of bacon was counted as a serving.
About 24,000 participants died over the two-plus decades that researchers followed them. After taking into account other aspects of health and lifestyle, Hu and his team calculated the chance of dying was 12 per cent higher for every extra serving of red meat the men and women had eaten each day.
“The results are not really surprising given that previous studies have found consumption of red meat is linked to diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers,” Hu said.
“What’s surprising is the magnitude… Even a small amount of red meat is associated with a significantly increased risk of mortality.”
Though he doesn’t necessarily recommend everyone drop their burgers at once, Hu said it’s not a bad idea to try to cut back on red meat, given this and other evidence of its less-than-stellar health record.
“We’re not talking about everyone becoming a vegetarian — I think a small amount of red meat is still OK as part of a healthy diet,” he said.
“We’re talking about no more than two or three servings of red meat a week.”