Last updated on Jul 7th, 2020 at 02:22 pm

A study linked an increased red meat intake to early death, and also found that switching to healthier proteins helps you live longer

A large new study has found that increasing red meat intake, particularly processed red meat, is linked with a heightened risk of death.

On the flip side, reducing red meat intake while increasing healthy protein sources (like legumes, whole grains, eggs, fish and vegetables) may lower the risk.

Why eating red meat is risky

Eating a lot of beef, pork and lamb has been linked with a higher risk of type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and premature death.

However, little is known about how changes in red meat intake may influence the risk of death.

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To explore this, a team of researchers based in the US and China looked at the link between changes in red meat consumption over an eight-year period with mortality during the next eight years, starting from 1986 to the end of follow-up in 2010.

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The study included over 80 000 people

The researchers used data for 53 553 US registered female nurses, aged 30 to 55, from the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) and 27 916 US male health professionals, aged 40 to 75, from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS), who were free of cardiovascular disease and cancer at the start of the study.

Every four years the participants completed a food frequency questionnaire (FFQ) where they were asked how often, on average, they ate each food of a standard portion size in the past year, ranging from “never or less than once per month” to “six or more times a day.” They were then divided into five categories based on their changes in red meat intake.

During the study period, the total number of deaths from any cause (known as ‘all-cause mortality’) reached 14 019 (8 426 women and 5 593 men). The leading causes were cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory disease and neurodegenerative disease.

After adjusting for age and other potentially influential factors, increasing total red meat intake (both processed and unprocessed) by 3,5 servings a week or more over an eight-year period was associated with a 10 per cent higher risk of death in the next eight years.

Similarly, increasing processed red meat intake, such as bacon, hot dogs, sausages and salami, by 3,5 servings a week or more was associated with a 13 per cent higher risk of death, whereas increasing intake of unprocessed red meat was associated with a nine per cent higher risk.

Making the switch could add years to your life

Researchers found that reducing red meat intake while eating more whole grains, vegetables, or other protein foods such as legumes, poultry without skin, eggs and fish, was associated with a lower risk of death among both men and women.

For example, swapping one serving per day of red meat for one serving of fish per day over eight years was linked to a 17% lower risk of death in the subsequent eight years.

Similar findings were seen in the shorter-term (four years) and longer-term (12 years) for the link between changes in red meat intake and mortality, and for replacing red meat with healthier food alternatives.

Is it reason enough to give up bacon and burgers?

As an observational study, it can’t establish a cause. However, it’s worth considering as the findings are based on a large number of people over a long follow-up period with consistent results between men and women.

You can decide to leave the bacon out of your breakfast and give up your takeaway burger lunch habit, but according to the researchers, a change in protein source, particularly eating healthy plant-based foods such as legumes, vegetables and whole grains helps improve longevity.

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Source: BMJ via

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