Study: Increased Red Meat Consumption Leads to Higher Risk of Early Death

Farmers Group Calls For Higher Meat Prices

A new study might have you skipping the barbecue this summer - researchers say people who increased their daily consumption of red meat over an eight-year period were more likely to die from an early death as compared to those people who ate higher amounts of nuts, vegetables, poultry and whole grains.

The study, published on Wednesday, was authored by Frank Hu of Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

"This long-term study provides further evidence that reducing red meat intake while eating other protein foods or more whole grains and vegetables may reduce risk of premature death," Hu said in a statement. "To improve both human health and environmental sustainability, it is important to adopt a Mediterranean-style or other diet that emphasizes healthy plant foods."

The study's results lead researchers to suspect that the association between eating red meat and the increased risk of an early death may be tied to a combination of components, including saturated fat, cholesterol, heme iron, preservatives and carcinogenic compounds that promote "cardio-metabolic disturbances." Consumption of red meat is also linked to a type of gut microbiota-derived metabolite that could promote plaque build-up in a person's arteries.

The study used the health data from 53,553 women who participated in The Nurses' Health Study and 27,916 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. The study's participants were all free of cardiovascular disease and cancers at the beginning of the study. Researchers looked at the data associated with changes in participant's red meat consumption between 1986 and 1994 and predicted mortality in 1994 and 2002. They also looked into whether changes from 1994 to 2002 predicted mortality in 2002 to 2010.

Those participants who increased their red meat intake by a half-a-daily serving or more were associated with a 13 percent increase in mortality from all causes. Participants who consumed the same red meat through the study were associated with a 9 percent increased mortality rate. Researchers also found a strong connection between increased red meat consumption and increased deaths due to cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and neurodegenerative diseases.

"Increases in red meat consumption, especially processed meat, over eight years were associated with a higher risk of death in the subsequent eight years in US women and men," the study said. "Increased consumption of healthier animal or plant foods was associated with a lower risk of death compared with red meat consumption."

The study also found that people who decreased the amount red meat they ate, while increasing the amount of nuts, fish, poultry (without the skin), dairy, eggs, whole grains, and vegetables were associated with a lower risk of death over the same eight-year period.

The results were consistent among the study's participants, regardless of their age, physical activity, dietary quality, whether they smoked, or drank alcohol, researchers said.

"Our analysis provides further evidence to support the replacement of red and processed meat consumption with healthy alternative food choices," the study's authors wrote.

Photo: Getty Images

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