Study Links Red Meat to Early Death: How Much Should We Eat?
Posted by Katie Ostoich on March 15, 2012 at 9:46 AM
Just like any girl (and Ron Swanson fan) out there, I love a nice steak, a cheeseburger, a side of crispy bacon at brunch. But it looks like I’m going to be rethinking my carnivorous ways…a new study out of Harvard says eating too much red meat puts you at risk for an early death.
The study, published this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that eating red meat is linked with an increased risk of total, cardiovascular and cancer mortality -- in other words, death from cancer, heart disease and all other causes. Umm, scary! On a happier note, the study also showed that swapping out red meat for healthy protein sources like fish, poultry, nuts and legumes was associated with a lower risk of death.
Researchers tracked the diets of more than 121,000 middle-aged men and women for up to 28 years; about 20 percent of participants died during that period. And what they found was this: A daily, 3-ounce serving of unprocessed red meat (about the size of a deck of cards) was associated with a 13 percent increased risk of mortality, while a daily serving of processed red meat (one hot dog or two slices of bacon) was as associated with a 20 percent increased risk of mortality.
It was also found that for every additional 3-ounce serving per day, those numbers increase exponentially – in other words, if you're eating a 9-ounce steak every day, according to the study, you're increasing your risk of any early death by 39 percent. If it's 9 ounces of bacon or salami each day? Sixty percent.
Don’t start preparing for the meat-pocalypse just yet. Tthere are some health benefits to eating red meat, especially for women -- it's a good source of protein, iron (something our monthy visitor depletes) and certain minerals, but those are easily replaceable with other sources, like fish, poultry and iron-rich plant sources.
Also to note: the study doesn't distinguish between lean and fatty meats, only between unprocessed and processed. Lean red meat doesn't have the same amount of cholesterol and saturated fat, which contributes to heart disease. But lean meat still contains cancer-causing compounds that are created when you cook it at high temperatures.
As for processed meats like bacon and salami, which are high in saturated fat and cholesterol, preserved with nitrites and loaded with sodium, the American Institute of Cancer Research recommends eating them rarely or not at all.
So how much red meat is safe to eat? The researchers estimated that 9.3 percent of deaths in men and 7.6 percent in women could have been prevented if all the participants had consumed less than 0.5 servings per day of red meat. As a good rule of thumb, stick with four ounces per week. Other studies have shown that more than that starts to increase your health risks.
Looking for healthy alternatives? Other sources of healthy protein can actually lower your mortality risk, the study found: fish by 7 percent, poultry by 14 percent, nuts by 19 percent, beans/legumes by 10 percent, low-fat dairy products by 10 percent and whole grains by 14 percent.
So it looks like I’m going to start looking for turkey burgers and passing on that side of bacon…