Changing your meat-eating habits could mean a longer life

Mounting evidence continues to suggest that eating too much red meat- such as bacon and hot dogs- is linked with health problems

Mounting evidence continues to suggest that eating too much red meat- such as bacon and hot dogs- is linked with health problems

The researchers analyzed the association of changes in red meat consumption over eight years with mortality risk during the subsequent eight years.

Consumption of processed red meat has been implicated in the rise of cardiovascular health issues in the past, and a new study seems to strongly support those earlier findings.

"However, the positive news is that if people shift to non-meat sources of protein they can significantly reduce their risk of common diseases of premature death aging", he added.

The results showed that people who increased their red and processed meat intake by at least half a serving per day over the eight years had a 10 per cent higher risk of dying in the subsequent eight-year period. Researchers looked at the data associated with changes in participant's red meat consumption between 1986 and 1994 and predicted mortality in 1994 and 2002.

Processed red meat - like bacon, for instance - was associated with a 13 percent higher risk of death from all causes. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology and chairman of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who was senior author of the study.

On the other hand, lowering the intake of red meat while replacing it with more whole grains, vegetables or animal protein like skinless poultry, fish or eggs, lowered the risk of death in both men and women.

The study also found that people who decreased the amount red meat they ate, while increasing the amount of nuts, fish, poultry (without the skin), dairy, eggs, whole grains, and vegetables were associated with a lower risk of death over the same eight-year period. Heather Fields, an internal medicine specialist at Mayo Clinic in Arizona, who was not involved in the research. Previously, studies have linked high red meat consumption - particularly processed red meat (i.e. hot dogs, bacon, sausages) - with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain types of cancer. "In addition, how can we prepare these foods to optimize nutrient intake while improving palatability and make healthy eating more enjoyable?"

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Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association, said meat provided essential nutrients - protein, iron and zinc and vitamins.

As an observational study, the researchers point out that they can not establish a cause and effect relationship, and there were some limitations to the study, such as studying mainly white registered health professionals rather than a more diverse group of participants. More research is needed to determine whether similar findings would emerge among a more diverse group of people.

The researchers, based in the United States and China, concluded: "This association with mortality was observed with increased consumption of processed and unprocessed meat, but was stronger for processed meat". More research is needed to determine a causal relationship. Scientists think that these adverse health outcomes may be due to red meat and processed red meat components such as saturated fats, sodium, preservatives, and potential carcinogens like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Separate studies have also linked red meat to unfavorable changes in the gut microbiome, which is the ecosystem of bacteria and microbes in your gut.

"We also know that red meat production has a significant environmental impact", Hu said.

Cutting down on meat and replacing it with fish or chicken could add years to your life, a major study suggests.

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