Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Meat Intake And Mortality

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Does eating red meat increase your risk of dying early? That’s the question a large health study investigated. The study, which was sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, followed half a million people for 10 years to find out what impact eating red meat had on a person’s lifespan. During the study 71,252 persons died.

Researchers compared how much meat individuals ate and mortality levels from all causes, from cardiovascular disease, and from cancer. All types of beef and pork (including bacon, hamburgers, sausage, steak, hotdogs, and red meat in foods such as pizza, chili, lasagna, and stew) were studied.

Here is what they found. In short, the more meat people ate, the higher their risk of an early death. When they compared men who ate the most (top 20%) red meat with those men who ate the least (bottom 20%), researchers found that high meat consumers had a 31% increased risk of dying early from any cause, even after controlling for age, exercise level, body weight, smoking, education level, alcohol intake, and fruit and vegetables intake. Women who ate the most meat had a 36% increased risk of early death from any cause.

The trend was statistically significant as well. At each level of increased intake of red meat in the diet, there was a measurable increase in mortality (see chart below).

When researchers looked just at processed meats, they found a similar increased risk of early death for those who ate the most compared to those eating the least. People who ate more fish and poultry, however, showed a slight decreased risk compared to those eating red meat. When looking just at cancer mortality, men who ate the most meat had a 22% increased risk of getting cancer and women a 20% increased risk of getting cancer. One good way to reduce your cancer risk is eat less red meat and more legumes, nuts, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

The research authors estimated that, in men, 1 out of every 10 deaths (an 11% decrease) could have been prevented if men would have eaten less red meat. In women, researchers estimated that 1 out of every 5 deaths (a 21% decrease) could have been prevented if the red meat intake was reduced to low levels (bottom 20% in this study).

These are remarkable health advantages by making a simple dietary change – eat less red meat. Poultry and fish resulted in lower mortality levels as did vegetarian diets. Other dietary changes that have also been shown to lower risk of mortality include eating more:

o Fruits and vegetables
o Nuts and nut butters
o Legumes (peas, beans, lentils, soy, tofu)
o Whole-grain breads, cereals, and pasta

The research is quit clear. If you want to reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, and early death, reduce or eliminate red and processed meats from your diet and choose primarily unrefined, plant-based foods.

Sinha R, Cross AJ, et al. Meat Intake and Mortality. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2009; 169(6):562-571.

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