People who eat higher amounts of red meat and processed meats have a greater risk of dying prematurely from heart disease, cancer and other causes compared to those who eat less, according to a new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Researchers evaluated a study of 500,000 men and women who participated in the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study. Participants were between the ages of 50 and 71 when the study began in 1995, and all provided detailed information about their food intake.
They were followed for 10 years, using the Social Security Administration's databases to track causes of death. During the follow-up period, 47,976 men and 23,276 women died.
"Red and processed meat intakes were associated with modest increases in total mortality, cancer mortality, and heart disease mortality," wrote Rashmi Sinha of the National Cancer Institute.
In contrast, regularly consuming chicken, fish, turkey and other poultry foods lowered the risk of death, the study found.
For the study, red meat included bacon, beef, ham, hamburger, hot dogs, live, pork, sausage and steak. Processed meats included white or red meat that was dried, cured or smoked, such as chicken sausage, cold cuts and lunch meats.
While pork is often promoted as “white meat,” it is believed to increase cancer risk because of its iron content, says Sinha.
Researchers found that men who consumed the most red meat – 4.5 ounces, about the size of a small steak – were 31 percent more likely to die for any reason, 22 percent were more likely to die of cancer and 27 percent more likely to die of heart disease than those who ate less meat.
Women who ate the most red meat were 36 percent more likely to die for any reason, 20 percent more likely to die from cancer and 50 percent more likely to die from heart disease.
As for how red meat is unhealthy, the explanations are plentiful. Red meat is high in saturated fat, which has been associated with breast and colorectal cancer. It is also high in iron, which is believed to promote cancer. Processed meats also contain substances known as nitrosamines, which have also been linked to cancer.
Thousands of deaths could be prevented if people simply consumed less meat, wrote researchers.
Heart disease is a term that includes several more specific heart conditions. The most common heart disease in the United States is coronary heart disease, which can lead to heart attack.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. An estimated 652,091 people die of heart disease in the U.S. each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). #