Eating too much amounts of red meat, which is high in saturated fat and cholesterol, has long been seen as unhealthy, especially for the heart. The new study is the first to estimate the effect of swapping out red meat on a person’s lifespan, reports CNN.
“Any red meat you eat contributes to the risk,” said An Pan, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. “We don’t want everyone to be a vegetarian. It’s better to go with unprocessed products and plant-based foods.”
Having combined data from two studies of health professionals, researchers tracked the diets of more than 121,000 middle-aged men and women for up to 28 years. The results showed that about 20% of the participants died during that period.
“This study provides clear evidence that regular consumption of red meat, especially processed meat, contributes substantially to premature death,” said researcher Dr. Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.
“On the other hand, choosing more healthful sources of protein in place of red meat can confer significant health benefits by reducing chronic disease morbidity (illness) and mortality.”
Dr. Hu continued: “We should move to a more plant-based diet,”. “This can substantially reduce the risk of chronic disease and the risk of premature death.”
The study also demonstrated that cutting red meat out of the diet led to significant benefits. Replacing one serving of red meat with an equivalent serving of fish reduced mortality risk by 7 per cent. Nuts were reduce the risk of dying by 20 per cent, scientists say. As for poultry, an even bigger risk reduction of 14 per cent was seen.
Legumes and low-fat dairy products lowered the risk by 10 per cent, whole grains by 14 per cent and nuts by 19 per cent, writes The Daily Mail.
Halving red meat consumption could have prevented 9.3per cent of deaths of men and 7.6 per cent of women taking part in the study, said the scientists.
Cancer prevention charity the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) recommends that people should avoid limit their consumption of red meat to 500 grams a week.
Dr Rachel Thompson, the charity’s deputy head of science, explained: “This study strengthens the body of evidence which shows a link between red meat and chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. The research itself seems solid and is based on two largescale cohort studies monitored over a long period of time.”
She added: “The study calculates that lives would be saved if people replaced red meat with healthy protein sources such as fish, poultry, nuts and legumes and we would like to see more people replacing red meat with these type of foods.”
Victoria Taylor, a dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, agreed: “This study links red meat to deaths from CVD [cardiovascular disease] and cancer.”
“Red meat can still be eaten as part of a balanced diet, but go for the leaner cuts and use healthier cooking methods such as grilling. If you eat processed meats like bacon, ham, sausages or burgers several times a week, add variation to your diet by substituting these for other protein sources such as fish, poultry, beans or lentils,” the dietitian explained.