Regularly eating red meat dramatically increases the risk of death from heart disease and cancer, according to a large-scale American study.
In January, researchers discovered a link between eating processed meat like bacon and sausages and pancreatic cancer.
Red meat increases risk of death from heart disease and cancer
Now, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston say that two rashers of bacon a day raises the odds of dying from heart disease and cancer by 20 per cent.
The study looked at data from more than 120,000 men and women who were tracked for more than 30 years- 37,698 men between 1986 and 2008 and 83,644 women between 1980 and 2008.
Almost 24,000 people died during the course of the study. Between 7.6 per cent and 9.3 per cent of these deaths could have been avoided if everyone taking part had eaten half a helping of red meat less a day, even taking into account known chronic disease risk factors like age, body weight, physical activity and family history.
Researchers said that adding an extra portion of unprocessed red meat to someone’s daily diet would increase the risk of death by 13 per cent, fatal cardiovascular disease by 18 per cent and cancer mortality by 10 per cent. Red meat refers to beef, pork, lamb and goat – foods like hamburgers, minced beef, pork chops and roast lamb.
One helping equated to 85g- two slices of bacon or one sausage.
The figures for processed meat were higher, 20 per cent for overall mortality, 21 per cent for death from heart problems and 16 per cent for cancer mortality. Processed meat is preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or by the addition of preservatives. Examples include ham, bacon, pastrami and salami, as well as hot dogs and some sausages.
However, unprocessed red meat still remains a significant source of essential nutrients such as iron, zinc, selenium, B vitamins and vitamin D. In the UK, red meat is 'critically important' to zinc intake, contributing 32per cent of the total for men and 27 per cent for women.
The authors of the study say that replacing one serving of red meat with fish, chicken or nuts significantly lowers the risk of dying.
Cancer prevention charity the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) recommends that people avoid processed meat entirely and limit their consumption of red meat to 500 grams a week. The British Heart Foundation said red meat could still be eaten as part of a balanced diet.
Senior author Professor Frank Hu, from Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, US, said: 'This study provides clear evidence that regular consumption of red meat, especially processed meat, contributes substantially to premature death.’
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