Eating any red meat hastens death

A new 20-year study of eating habits asks, "How does eating red meat hurt thee?" And then it counts the ways.

Now the vegetarians and pescatarians are going to say, "I told you so."

A new study shows that, as The Los Angeles Times headline puts it, "All red meat is bad for you."

In case you had any questions about what that exactly means, here's more explication: Eating any kind of red meat, in any amount, will greatly increase your risk of premature death.

The researchers reached this conclusion after examining questionnaires about eating habits and health filled out by more than 120,000 men and women from 1980 to 2006. The results were published Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Here are some of the findings:

  • Daily consumption of an amount of red meat equivalent to the size of a deck of cards (three ounces) was linked to a 12% increased chance of death during the study.
  • A daily serving of processed red meat, such as a hot dog or two slices of bacon, was associated with an even higher risk of mortality, namely, a 20% higher chance of death during the study.

And these results come on top of previous studies that linked red meat consumption to ailments such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

All of this news may be depressing, but the study also indicates how easy it is to change one's diet to prevent any negative effects of eating red meat:

  • Eating a serving of nuts instead of beef or pork correlated with a 19% decreased chance of dying during the study.
  • Opting for poultry or whole grains instead was linked to 14% reduced mortality risk.
  • Consuming low-fat dairy or legumes instead of beef or pork was associated with a 10% lower chance of dying during the study.
  • Eating fish as a red-meat substitute was linked to a 7% reduced mortality risk.

There are a few caveats to a study of this size. First, there could be a lot of error. When you ask more than a hundred thousand people to remember how much of what food they ate, you're bound to get a number who don't remember all that well.

Still, lead author An Pan, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, said that despite the details, the study showed that no amount of red meat is good for health. He told The Los Angeles Times:

"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."

While it's not clear exactly what is so harmful about red meat, some culprits include the iron and saturated fat in beef, pork and lamb, or the nitrates used to preserve them.

And whatever the exact cause is, it is apparent that the more meat one consumes, the higher the mortality risk.

Guess we'll be running to the grocery for more fish, nuts and legumes.

Related on SmartPlanet:

photo: tarale/Flickr

via: The Los Angeles TimesThe New York Times

This post was originally published on