Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health have published the results of a twenty-two year study on red meat consumption in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine. The scientists found that red meat consumption is associated with an increased risk of total, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality, and that substituting other healthy protein sources, such as fish, poultry, nuts, and legumes, was associated with a lower risk of mortality.
Lead study author, Dr. Ann Pan noted “Our study adds more evidence to the health risks of eating high amounts of red meat, which has been associated with type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers in other studies.” Researchers reviewed the data supplied by two independent studies of 37,698 men and 83,644 women, each conducted over a period of 22 to 28 years, revealing data over a very long time frame. All participants were free of cardiovascular disease and cancer when the studies began, and diet was assessed through use of a questionnaire every four years.
Substituting Poultry, Nuts and Legumes for Red Meat Lowers Mortality Risk up to Nineteen Percent
For the duration of the two studies, a total of 23,926 deaths were recorded with 5,910 from cardiovascular disease and 9,464 from cancer. From the results, regular consumption of red meats, especially processed meats such as sausage, hot dogs and luncheon meats was associated with a significant increased mortality risk. A daily serving of unprocessed red meat (about three ounces, the size of a deck of cards) was found to increase mortality by thirteen percent. Processed meat consumption (the equivalent of one hot dog each day) increased death risk from all causes by twenty percent.
Limit Consumption of Red Meats to Ten Percent of Calories and Eliminate Processed Meats
Breaking the results down further, the researchers found that mortality risks were increased by 18% and 21% for cardiovascular diseases, and 10% and 16% for cancer mortality (unprocessed meat consumption compared to processed meats). Study authors took into account chronic disease risk factors such as age, body mass index, physical activity, family history of heart disease and other causes of cancer. The research team was quick to note that the results do not mean that meat must be eliminated from the diet, except for processed meats that are unhealthy at any level of consumption due to high concentrations of preservative nitrites.
Nutrition experts suggest limiting unprocessed red meats to several ounces, two or three days of the week. Always choose free-range, organic meats to avoid growth hormones and food-borne illnesses typically found in conventionally farmed animals. They suggest substituting fish, poultry (again, organically raised), nuts, legumes and whole grains to lower mortality risks by 7% to 19%. The study team concluded “choosing more healthful sources of protein in place of red meat can confer significant health benefits by reducing chronic disease morbidity and mortality.”