With new research indicating that processed meats like sausages and bacon increase risk of premature death, experts are recommending that people cut down on their intake to stay healthy.
Processed meat increases risk of premature death
The UK government currently recommends that we eat no more than 70g of processed meat a day, the equivalent of two slices of bacon. To be considered processed, something has to be done to the meat to extend its shelf life or change its taste, like curing or salting.
In January last year, researchers discovered a link between eating processed meat and pancreatic cancer.
Now, a large scale new study has shown that if everyone consumed no more than 20g of processed meat a day, many premature deaths could be prevented.
The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (Epic) study recruited men and women aged between 35 and 70 from 10 European countries, who all had a widely ranging diet.
Meats were grouped into red, white and processed meats. Processed meats included ham, bacon, sausages and ready meal fillings, whilst red meat included beef, lamb, pork and goat. White meat was made up of chicken, turkey, duck and rabbit.
During the study follow up period of around 13 years, one in 17 of the participants died. Over 5,500 of these died from heart problems, nearly 10,000 died from cancer, and over 1,000 died from respiratory diseases.
Increased mortality risk
Writing in the journal BMC Medicine, the researchers found that people eating more than 160g of processed meat a day were more than 44% more likely to die during the follow-up period than those eating around 20g.
Whilst participants who ate a lot of processed meat were also more likely to make other unhealthy lifestyle choices, the link between processed meat and premature death was still present even when these risk factors were accounted for.
Neither red meat nor poultry were associated with any significant increase in mortality risk. In fact, small quantities of red meat were actually found to be beneficial thanks to nutrients and minerals.
Processed meat products contain high levels of harmful saturated fat and cholesterol, as well as additional preservatives and chemicals linked to cancer.
Study leader Professor Sabine Rohrmann said: "High meat consumption, especially processed meat, is associated with a less healthy lifestyle. But after adjusting for smoking, obesity and other confounders we think there is a risk of eating processed meat.”
The researchers concluded that if everyone in the study consumed no more than 20g of processed meat a day, 3% of the premature deaths could have been prevented.
The British Heart Foundation suggested opting for leaner cuts of meat in order to improve your diet.
According to the NHS, a diet based on starchy foods such as potatoes, rice and pasta; with plenty of fruit and vegetables; some protein-rich foods such as meat, fish and lentils; some milk and dairy foods; and not too much fat, salt or sugar, will give you all the nutrients you need.
More tips for cutting down on processed meat can be found here.
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