A study of more than 110,00 adults, conducted from 1980 to 2008, concludes that eating red meat of any type and in any amount will significantly increase risk of premature death.
"Any red meat you eat contributes to the risk," said An Pan, postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston and lead author of the study. The results were published online yesterday in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Some eye-openers: Adding just one three-ounce serving of unprocessed red meat to one's daily diet was linked to a 13 percent increased chance of death during the course of the study. Eating processed red meats, such as a hot dog or two slices of foodie-favorite bacon, upped the risk of death during the study by 20 percent. Overall, as meat consumption increased among the 37,698 men and 83,644 women who were tracked, so did mortality risk.
As a Los Angeles Times story about the study points out, red meat consumption is associated with diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Scientists speculate that what makes the meat so potentially deadly are the iron and saturated fats, the nitrates used for preservation, and the chemicals that get created when the meat is exposed to high-temperature cooking.
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The researchers also found that substituting other foods for red meat seemed to reduce mortality risk for those who participated in the study. Eating one serving of nuts rather than beef or pork lowered the risk of dying during the study by 19 percent; choosing poultry or whole grains instead was linked to a 14 percent reduction in mortality; low-fat dairy or legumes led to 10 percent less, and fish to 7 percent.
Pan's bottom line: No amount of red meat is good for you, but "If you want to eat red meat, eat the unprocessed products, and reduce it to two or three servings a week. That would have a huge impact on public health."
Dr. Dean Ornish, president of the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute, weighs in on the subject in an invited commentary on the study's findings. (His bottom line: "In short, don't have a cow!")